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HISTORY f\230 

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" Victrices aquilas alium laturus in orbem." 

Lucan, Pharsalia, lib. v., v. 238. 





Copyright, 1843, 

Copyright, 1871, 

Copyright, 1873, 

Mexico— Vol. I. 

Lippincott' s Press, Philadelphia. 


As the Conquest of Mexico has occupied the pens 
of Solis and of Robertson, two of the ablest historians 
of their respective nations, it might seem that little 
could remain at the present day to be gleaned by the 
historical inquirer. But Robertson's narrative is neces- 
sarily brief, forming only part of a more extended 
work ; and neither the British nor the Castilian author 
was provided with the important materials for relating 
this event which have been since assembled by the in- 
dustry of Spanish scholars. The scholar who led the 
way in these researches was Don Juan Baptista Munoz, 
the celebrated historiographer of the Indies, who, by 
a royal edict, was allowed free access to the national 
archives, and to all libraries, public, private, and mo- 
nastic, in the kingdom and its colonies. The result of 
his long labors was a vast body of materials, of which 
unhappily he did not live to reap the benefit himself. 
His manuscripts were deposited, after his death, in the 
archives of the Royal Academy of History at Madrid ; 
and that collection was subsequently augmented by the 
manuscripts of Don Vargas Ponce, President of the 
Academy, obtained, like those of Munoz, from different 
quarters, but especially from the archives of the Indies 
at Seville. 

A* (V) 


On my application to the Academy, in 1838, for 
permission to copy that part of this inestimable collec- 
tion relating to Mexico and Peru, it was freely acceded 
to, and an eminent German scholar, one of their own 
number, was appointed to superintend the collation 
and transcription of the manuscripts ; and this, it may 
be added, before I had any claim on the courtesy of 
that respectable body, as one of its associates. This 
conduct shows the advance of a liberal spirit in the 
Peninsula since the time of Dr. Robertson, who com- 
plains that he was denied admission to the most im- 
portant public repositories. The favor with which my 
own application was regarded, however, must chiefly 
be attributed to the kind offices of the venerable Pres- 
ident of the Academy, Don Martin Fernandez de 
Navarrete ; a scholar whose personal character has 
secured to him the same high consideration at home 
which his literary labors have obtained abroad. To 
this eminent person Lam under still further obligations, 
for the free use which he has allowed me to make of 
his own manuscripts, — the fruits of a life of accumula- 
tion, and the basis of those valuable publications with 
which he has at different times illustrated the Spanish 
colonial history. 

From these three magnificent collections, the result 
of half a century's careful researches, I have obtained 
a mass of unpublished documents, relating to the Con- 
quest and Settlement of Mexico and of Peru, com- 
prising altogether about eight thousand folio pages. 
They consist of instructions of the Court, military and 
private journals, correspondence of the great actors in 
the scenes, legal instruments, contemporary chronicles, 


and the like, drawn from all the principal places in the 
extensive colonial empire of Spain, as well as from the 
public archives in the Peninsula. 

I have still further fortified the collection by glean- 
ing such materials from Mexico itself as had been 
overlooked by my illustrious predecessors in these re- 
searches. For these I am indebted to the courtesy of 
Count Cortina, and, yet more, to that of Don Lucas 
Alaman, Minister of Foreign Affairs in Mexico ; but, 
above all, to my excellent friend, Don Angel Cal- 
deron de la Barca, late Minister Plenipotentiary to 
that country from the court of Madrid, — a gentleman 
whose high and estimable qualities, even more than 
his station, secured him the public confidence, and 
gained him free access to every place of interest and 
importance in Mexico. 

I have also to acknowledge the very kind offices 
rendered to me by the Count Camaldoli at Naples ; by 
the Duke of Serradifalco in Sicily, a nobleman whose 
science gives additional lustre to his rank ; and by the 
Duke of Monteleone, the present representative of 
Cortes, who has courteously opened the archives of 
his family to my inspection. To these names must 
also be added that of Sir Thomas Phillips, Bart., whose 
precious collection of manuscripts probably surpasses in 
extent that of any private gentleman in Great Britain, 
if not in Europe; that of M. Ternaux-Compans, 
the proprietor of the valuable literary collection of 
Don Antonio Uguina, including the papers of Munoz, 
the fruits of which he is giving to the world in his 
excellent translations ; and, lastly, that of my friend 
and countryman, Arthur Middleton, Esq., late Charge- 

viii PREFACE. 

d' Affaires from the United States at the court of Madrid, 
for the efficient aid he has afforded me in prosecuting 
my inquiries in that capital. 

In addition to this stock of original documents ob- 
tained through these various sources, I have diligently 
provided myself with such printed works as have refer- 
ence to the subject, including the magnificent publica- 
tions, which have appeared both in France and England, 
on the Antiquities of Mexico, which, from their cost 
and colossal dimensions, would seem better suited to 
a public than to a private library. 

Having thus stated the nature of my materials, and 
the sources whence they are derived, it remains for me 
to add a few observations on the general plan and com- 
position of the work. Among the remarkable achieve- 
ments of the Spaniards in the sixteenth century, there 
is no one more striking to the imagination than the 
conquest of Mexico. The subversion of a great em- 
pire by a handful of adventurers, taken with all its 
strange and picturesque accompaniments, has the air 
of romance rather than of sober history ; and it is not 
easy to treat such a theme according to the severe rules 
prescribed by historical criticism. But, notwithstand- 
ing the seductions of the subject, I have conscientiously 
endeavored to distinguish fact from fiction, and to es- 
tablish the narrative on as broad a basis as possible of 
contemporary evidence ; and I have taken occasion to 
corroborate the text by ample citations from authori- 
ties, usually in the original, since few of them can be 
very accessible to the reader. In these extracts I have 
scrupulously conformed to the ancient orthography, 
however obsolete and even barbarous, rather than 


impair in any degree the integrity of the original 

Although the subject of the work is, properly, only 
the Conquest of Mexico, I have prepared the way for 
it by such a view of the civilization of the ancient 
Mexicans as might acquaint the reader with the char- 
acter of this extraordinary race, and enable him to 
understand the difficulties which the Spaniards had to 
encounter in their subjugation. This Introductory part 
of the work, with the essay in the Appendix which 
properly belongs to the Introduction, although both 
together making only half a volume, has cost me as 
much labor, and nearly as much time, as the remainder 
of the history. If I shall have succeeded in giving the 
reader a just idea of the true nature and extent of the 
civilization to which the Mexicans had attained, it will 
not be labor lost. 

The story of the Conquest terminates with the fall 
of the capital. Yet I have preferred to continue the 
narrative to the death of Cortes, relying on the interest 
which the development of his character in his military 
career may have excited in the reader. I am not in- 
sensible to the hazard I incur by such a course. The 
mind, previously occupied with one great idea, that of 
the subversion of the capital, may feel the prolonga- 
tion of the story beyond that point superfluous, if not 
tedious, and may find it difficult, after the excitement 
caused by witnessing a great national catastrophe, to 
take an interest in the adventures of a private individ- 
ual. Solis took the more politic course of concluding 
his narrative with the fall of Mexico, and thus leaves 
his readers with the full impression of that memorable 


event, undisturbed, on their minds. To prolong the 
narrative is to expose the historian to the error so much 
censured by the French critics in some of their most 
celebrated dramas, where the author by a premature 
denouement has impaired the interest of his piece. It is 
the defect that necessarily attaches, though in a greater 
degree, to the history of Columbus, in which petty 
adventures among a group of islands make up the 
sequel of a life that opened with the magnificent dis- 
covery of a World, — a defect, in short, which it has 
required all the genius of Irving and the magical charm 
of his style perfectly to overcome. 

Notwithstanding these objections, I have been in- 
duced to continue the narrative, partly from deference 
to the opinion of several Spanish scholars, who con- 
sidered that the biography of Cortes had not been 
fully exhibited, and partly from the circumstance of 
my having such a body of original materials for this 
biography at my command. And I cannot regret that 
I have adopted this course; since, whatever lustre 
the Conquest may reflect on Cortes as a military 
achievement, it gives but an imperfect idea of his en- 
lightened spirit and of his comprehensive and versatile 

To the eye of the critic there may seem some in- 
congruity in a plan which combines objects so dissimilar 
as those embraced by the present history, where the 
Introduction, occupied with the antiquities and origin 
of a nation, has somewhat the character of a philosophic 
theme, while the conclusion is strictly biographical, and 
the two may be supposed to match indifferently with 
the main body, or historical portion, of the work. But 


I may hope that such objections will be found to have 
less weight in practice than in theory; and, if properly 
managed, that the general views of the Introduction 
will prepare the reader for the particulars of the Con- 
quest, and that the great public events narrated in this 
will, without violence, open the way to the remaining 
personal history of the hero who is the soul of it. 
Whatever incongruity may exist in other respects, I 
may hope that the unity of interest, the only unity held 
of much importance by modern critics, will be found 
still to be preserved. 

The distance of the present age from the period of 
the narrative might be presumed to secure the historian 
from undue prejudice or partiality. Yet by the Ameri- 
can and the English reader, acknowledging so different 
a moral standard from that of the sixteenth century, I 
may possibly be thought too indulgent to the errors of 
the Conquerors ; while by a Spaniard, accustomed to 
the undiluted panegyric of Solis, I may be deemed to 
have dealt too hardly with them. To such I can only 
say that, while, on the one hand, I have not hesitated 
to expose in their strongest colors the excesses of the 
Conquerors, on the other, I have given them the benefit 
of such mitigating reflections as might be suggested bj 
the circumstances and the period in which they lived. 
I have endeavored not only to present a picture true in 
itself, but to place it in its proper light, and to put the 
spectator in a proper point of view for seeing it to the 
best advantage. I have endeavored, at the expense of 
some repetition, to surround him with the spirit of the 
times, and, in a word, to make him, if I may so ex- 
press myself, a contemporary of the sixteenth century. 


Whether, and how far, I have succeeded in this, he 
must determine. 

For one thing, before I conclude, I may reasonably 
ask the reader's indulgence. Owing to the state of my 
eyes, I have been obliged to use a writing-case made for 
the blind, which does not permit the writer to see his 
own manuscript. Nor have I ever corrected, or even 
read, my own original draft. As the chirography, 
under these disadvantages, has been too often careless 
and obscure, occasional errors, even with the utmost care 
of my secretary, must have necessarily occurred in the 
transcription, somewhat increased by the barbarous 
phraseology imported from my Mexican authorities. 
I cannot expect that these errors have always been 
detected even by the vigilant eye of the perspicacious 
critic to whom the proof-sheets have been subjected. 

In the Preface to the "History of Ferdinand and 
Isabella," I lamented that, while occupied with that 
subject, two of its most attractive parts had engaged 
the attention of the most popular of American authors, 
Washington Irving. By a singular chance, something 
like the reverse of this has taken place in the compo- 
sition of the present history, and I have found myself 
unconsciously taking up ground which he was preparing 
to occupy. It was not till I had become master of my 
rich collection of materials that I was acquainted with 
this circumstance ; and, had he persevered in his de- 
sign, I should unhesitatingly have abandoned my own, 
if not from courtesy, at least from policy ; for, though 
armed with the weapons of Achilles, this could give 
me no hope of success in a competition with Achilles 
himself. But no sooner was that distinguished writer 

PREFACE. xiii 

informed of the preparations I had made, than, with 
the gentlemanly spirit which will surprise no one who 
has the pleasure of his acquaintance, he instantly 
announced to me his attention of leaving the subject 
open to me. While I do but justice to Mr. Irving by 
this statement, I feel the prejudice it does to myself in 
the unavailing regret I am exciting in the bosom of 
the reader. 

I must not conclude this Preface, too long protracted 
as it is already, without a word of acknowledgment 
to my friend George Ticknor, Esq., — the friend of 
many years, — for his patient revision of my manu- 
script ; a labor of love, the worth of which those only 
can estimate who are acquainted with his extraordinary 
erudition and his nice critical taste. If I have reserved 
his name for the last in the list of those to whose good 
offices I am indebted, it is most assuredly not because 
I value his services least. 


BOSTON, October i, 1843. 

NOTE. — The author's emendations of this history include many 
additional notes, which, being often contradictory to the text, have 
been printed between brackets. They were chiefly derived from the 
copious annotations of Don Jose F. Ramirez and Don Lucas Alaman 
to the two Spanish translations published in Mexico. There could be 
no stronger guarantee of the value and general accuracy of the work 
than the minute labor bestowed upon it by these distinguished 
scholars. — Ed. 

Vol. I. 





















Ancient Mexico.— Climate and Products. — Primitive 

Races. — Aztec Empire i 

Extent of the Aztec Territory 2 

The Hot Region 3 

Volcanic Scenery 5 

Cordillera of the Andes 6 

Table-land in the Days of the Aztecs 7 

Valley of Mexico 8 

TheToltecs 10 

Their mysterious Disappearance 14 

Races from the Northwest ........ 15 

Their Hostilities 17 

Foundation of Mexico 19 

Domestic Feuds 20 

League of the kindred Tribes 21 

Rapid Rise of Mexico ,22 

Prosperity of the Empire 23 

Criticism on Veytia's History 24 


Succession to the Crown. — Aztec Nobility. — Judicial 
System. — Laws and Revenues. — Military Institu- 
tions 26 

Election of the Sovereign ....... 26 

His Coronation .......... 27 

Aztec Nobles 28 

B* 2 ( xvii ) 

xviii CONTENTS. 


Their barbaric Pomp 29 

Tenure of their Estates 


Legislative Power 31 

Judicial System 32 

Independent Judges 34 

Their Mode of Procedure 35 

Showy Tribunal 36 

Hieroglyphical Paintings 37 

Marriage Rites 38 

Slavery in Mexico .38 

Royal Revenues 40 

Burdensome Imposts 42 

Public Couriers 43 

Military Enthusiasm 45 

Aztec Ambassadors 45 

Orders of Knighthood 46 

Gorgeous Armor 47 

National Standard 47 

Military Code 49 

Hospitals for the Wounded 49 

Influence of Conquest on a Nation 51 

Criticism on Torquemada's History 52 

Abbe Clavigero 53 


Mexican Mythology. — The Sacerdotal Order. — The 

Temples. — Human Sacrifices 55 

Systems of Mythology . . 55 

Mythology of the Aztecs 57 

Ideas of a God 58 

Sanguinary War-god 59 

God of the Air 60 

Mystic Legends 61 

Division of Time 64 

Future State 65 

Funeral Ceremonies 66 

Baptismal Rites 67 

Monastic Orders 70 



Feasts and Flagellation 71 

Aztec Confessional . . 71 

Education of the Youth . . 72 

Revenue of the Priests 74 

Mexican Temples 75 

Religious Festivals 76 

Human Sacrifices 77 

The Captive's Doom .78 

Ceremonies of Sacrifice 79 

Torturing of the Victim 80 

Sacrifice of Infants 81 

Cannibal Banquets 81 

Number of Victims .... .... 82 

Houses of Skulls 83 

Cannibalism of the Aztecs 87 

Criticism on Sahagun's History 89 


Mexican Hieroglyphics. — Manuscripts. — Arithmetic. 

— Chronology.— Astronomy 93 

Dawning of Science 93 

Picture-writing 94 

Aztec Hieroglyphics 96 

Manuscripts of the Mexicans 97 

Emblematic Symbols 98 

Phonetic Signs . 99 

Materials of the Aztec Manuscripts 102 

Form of their Volumes 103 

Destruction of most of them 104 

Remaining Manuscripts 105 

Difficulty of deciphering them 108 

Minstrelsy of the Aztecs in 

Theatrical Entertainments 112 

System of Notation 112 

Their Chronology ug 

The Aztec Era ny 

Calendar of the Priests 120 



Science of Astrology 123 

Astrology of the Aztecs 124 

Their Astronomy 125 

Wonderful Attainments in this Science .... 126 

Remarkable Festival 128 

Carnival of the Aztecs 130 

Lord Kingsborough's Work 131 

Criticism on Gama 132 


Aztec Agriculture.— Mechanical Arts.— Merchants. 

— Domestic Manners 134 

Mechanical Genius 134 

Agriculture 136 

Mexican Husbandry 136 

Vegetable Products 138 

Mineral Treasures 141 

Skill of the Aztec Jewellers , 143 

Sculpture 144 

Huge Calendar-stone 145 

Aztec Dyes 146 

Beautiful Feather-work . 147 

Fairs of Mexico 148 

National Currency 148 

Trades 149 

Aztec Merchants 149 

Militant Traders 150 

Domestic Life 152 

Kindness to Children 153 

Polygamy 154 

Condition of the Sex ........ 154 

Social Entertainments 154 

Use of Tobacco 155 

Culinary Art 157 

Agreeable Drinks 158 

Dancing 158 

Intoxication 159 

Criticism on Boturini's Work 160 



Tezcucans. — Their Golden Age. — Accomplished Princes. 

— Decline of their Monarchy 163 

The Acolhuans or Tezcucans 163 

Prince Nezahualcoyotl 164 

His Persecution ......... 165 

His Hair-breadth Escapes 166 

His wandering Life . 167 

Fidelity of his Subjects . . . . . . .168 

Triumphs over his Enemies 169 

Remarkable League ........ 169 

General Amnesty 170 

The Tezcucan Code . 170 

Departments of Government ...... 171 

Council of Music 172 

Its Censorial Office 172 

Literary Taste 173 

Tezcucan Bards 174 

Royal Ode 175 

Resources of Nezahualcoyotl 177 

His magnificent Palace 178 

His Gardens and Villas 179 

Address of the Priest ........ 182 

His Baths 184 

Luxurious Residence ........ 185 

Existing Remains of it 185 

Royal Amours . . . 186 

Marriage of the King 188 

Forest Laws 189 

Strolling Adventures 190 

Munificence of the Monarch 192 

His Religion 192 

Temple to the Unknown God 193 

Philosophic Retirement 194 

His plaintive Verses 195 

Last Hours of Nezahualcoyotl 197 

His Character 199 

Succeeded by Nezahualpilli 200 



The Lady of Tula 201 

Executes his Son 202 

Effeminacy of the King 202 

His consequent Misfortunes 203 

Death of Nezahualpilli 203 

Tezcucan Civilization 


Criticism on Ixtlilxochitl's Writings 206 




Spain under Charles v.— Progress of Discovery.— Co- 
lonial Policy. — Conquest of Cuba. — Expeditions 

to Yucatan 211 

Condition of Spain 211 

Increase of Empire . . 212 

Cardinal Ximenes 212 

Arrival of Charles the Fifth 212 

Swarm of Flemings . 213 

Opposition of the Cortes 214 

Colonial Administration 215 

Spirit of Chivalry 216 

Progress of Discovery 217 

Advancement of Colonization 218 

System of Repartimientos 218 

Colonial Policy 219 

Discovery of Cuba 220 

Its Conquest by Velasquez 221 

Cordova's Expedition to Yucatan .... 222 

His Reception by the Natives 223 

Grijalva's Expedition 224 

Civilization in Yucatan 225 

CONTENTS. xxiii 


Traffic with the Indians 226 

His Return to Cuba 227 

His cool Reception 227 

Ambitious Schemes of the Governor 228 

Preparations for an Expedition 229 


Hernando Cortes. — His Early Life.— Visits the New 
World.— His Residence in Cuba.— Difficulties with 

Velasquez. — Armada intrusted to Cortes . . 230 

Hernando Cortes 230 

His Education 231 

Choice of a Profession 232 

Departure for America 233 

Arrival at Hispaniola 234 

His Mode of Life 235 

Enlists under Velasquez 236 

Habits of Gallantry 237 

Disaffected towards Velasquez 237 

Cortes in Confinement 238 

Flies into a Sanctuary 239 

Again put in Irons 240 

His perilous Escape 240 

His Marriage 240 

Reconciled with the Governor 241 

Retires to his Plantation 242 

Armada intrusted to Cortes ...... 244 

Preparations for the Voyage 245 

Instructions to Cortes 247 


Jealousy of Velasquez.— Cortes embarks. — Equipment 
of his Fleet.— His Person and Character. — Ren- 
dezvous at Havana. — Strength of his Armament . 250 

Jealousy of Velasquez 250 

Intrigues against Cortes 251 



His clandestine Embarkation . . ., . . 252 

Arrives at Macaca 253 

Accession of Volunteers 254 

Stores and Ammunition 255 

Orders from Velasquez to arrest Cortds .... 255 

He raises the Standard at Havana ...... 256 

Person of Cortes 257 

His Character 258 

Strength of the Armament 259 

Stirring Address to his Troops 261 

Fleet weighs Anchor ....,,... 262 

Remarks on Estrella's Manuscript 262 


Voyage to Cozumel. — Conversion of the Natives. — 
jeronimo de aguilar. — army arrives at tabasco. 
— Great Battle with the Indians.— Christianity 

introduced 264 

Disastrous Voyage to Cozumel 264 

Humane Policy of Cortes ....... 265 

Cross found in the Island . . . . . , . . 266 

Religious Zeal of the Spaniards 267 

Attempts at Conversion 269 

Overthrow of the Idols 269 

Jeronimo de Aguilar 271 

His Adventures 271 

Employed as an Interpreter ...... 273 

Fleet arrives at Tabasco . . 274 

Hostile Reception 274 

Fierce Defiance of the Natives ...... 275 

Desperate Conflict 276 

Effect of the Fire-arms ........ 277 

Cortes takes Tabasco ........ 277 

Ambush of the Indians , 278 

The Country in Arms 279 

Preparations for Battle 280 

March on the Enemy ........ 281 

Joins Battle with the Indians ....... 282 



Doubtful Struggle 283 

Terror at the War-horse 283 

Victory of the Spaniards 284 

Number of Slain 285 

Treaty with the Natives 286 

Conversion of the Heathen 287 

Catholic Communion . . . . . . . • 288 

Spaniards embark for Mexico 289 


Voyage along the Coast. — Dona Marina. — Spaniards 

land in Mexico. — Interview with the Aztecs . 290 

Voyage along the Coast 290 

Natives come on Board 291 

Dona Marina . 292 

Her History 292 

Her Beauty and Character 293 

First Tidings of Montezuma 295 

Spaniards land in Mexico ....... 295 

First Interview with the Aztecs 297 

Their magnificent Presents 299 

Cupidity of the Spaniards . 299 

Cortes displays his Cavalry 300 

Aztec Paintings ......... 301 


Account of Montezuma. — State of his Empire. — Strange 
Prognostics. — Embassy and Presents. — Spanish En- 
campment 302 

Montezuma then upon the Throne . . . .' . 302 

Inaugural Address 303 

The Wars of Montezuma 304 

His civil Policy 304 

Oppression of his Subjects 306 

Foes of his Empire 306 

Superstition of Montezuma ...... 308 

Vol. I. — 2 c 



Mysterious Prophecy 308 

Portentous Omens 309 

Dismay of the Emperor 311 

Embassy and Presents to the Spaniards .... 312 

Life in the Spanish Camp 313 

Rich Present from Montezuma ...... 314 

Large gold Wheels 315 

Message from Montezuma 317 

Effects of the Treasure on the Spaniards .... 318 

Return of the Aztec Envoys 319 

Prohibition of Montezuma 320 

Preaching of Father Olmedo 320 

Desertion of the Natives 321 


Troubles in the Camp.— Plan of a Colony.— Manage- 
ment of Cortes. — March to Cempoalla. — Proceed- 
ings with the Natives. — Foundation of Vera Cruz . 322 
Discontent of the Soldiery .... . 322 
Envoys from the Totonacs . . . . . . . 323 

Dissensions in the Aztec Empire 324 

Proceedings in the Camp 324 

Cortes prepares to return to Cuba 325 

Army remonstrate 326 

Cortes yields 326 

Foundation of Villa Rica 327 

Resignation and Reappointment of Cortes .... 328 

Divisions in the Camp . , 329 

General Reconciliation 330 

March to Cempoalla 33a 

Picturesque Scenery 332 

Remains of Victims 333 

Terrestrial Paradise 334 

Love of Flowers by the Natives 335 

Their splendid Edifices 336 

Hospitable Entertainment at Cempoalla 337 

Conference with the Cacique 338 



Proposals of Alliance 339 

Advance of the Spaniards . 341 

Arrival of Aztec Nobles 341 

Artful Policy of Cortes , 342 

Allegiance of the Natives 344 

City of Villa Rica built 344 

Infatuation of the Indians 345 


Another Aztec Embassy. — Destruction of the Idols. — 
Despatches sent to Spain. — Conspiracy in the Camp. 

— The Fleet sunk 347 

Embassy from Montezuma 347 

Its Results 348 

Severe Discipline in the Army ...... 349 

Gratitude of the Cempoallan Cacique 350 

Attempt at Conversion 350 

Sensation among the Natives 351 

The Idols burned 352 

Consecration of the Sanctuary 353 

News from Cuba 354 

Presents for Charles the Fifth 355 

First Letter of Cortes 357 

Despatches to Spain 359 

Agents for the Mission 360 

Departure of the Ship . 362 

It touches at Cuba ........ 362 

Rage of Velasquez 362 

Ship arrives in Spain 363 

Conspiracy in the Camp 363 

Destruction of the Fleet 365 

Oration of Cortes 367 

Enthusiasm of the Army 368 

Notice of Las Casas 371 

His Life and Character 371 

Criticism on his Works 378 

xxviii CONTENTS. 





Proceedings at Cempoalla. — The Spaniards climb the 
Table-land. — Picturesque Scenery.— Transactions 
with the Natives. — Embassy to Tlascala . . 383 

Squadron off the Coast 383 

Stratagem of Cortes 385 

Arrangement at Villa Rica .... s 386 

Spaniards begin their March . . . . . . 387 

Climb the Cordilleras 388 

Wild Mountain Scenery 391 

Immense Heaps of human Skulls 393 

Transactions with the Natives 393 

Accounts of Montezuma's Power ..... 394 

Moderation of Father Olmedo 396 

Indian Dwellings 398 

Cortes determines his Route 399 

Embassy to Tlascala 400 

Remarkable Fortification 401 

Arrival in Tlascala 402 


Republic of Tlascala. — Its Institutions. — Early His- 
tory.— Discussions in the Senate. — Desperate Bat- 
tles , 403 

The Tlascalans . . 403 

Their Migrations 404 

Their Government ........ 404 

Public Games ...„...,.., 406 

Order of Knighthood 406 

Internal Resources . 407 

Their Civilization ........ 407 



Struggles with the Aztecs 408 

Means of Defence ........ 409 

Sufferings of the Tlascalans . . . . . . .411 

Their hardy Character 412 

Debates in the Senate ........ 412 

Spaniards advance . . 414 

Desperate Onslaught 414 

Retreat of the Indians ....... 415 

Bivouac of the Spaniards 416 

The Army resumes its March ...... 417 

Immense Host of Barbarians ....... 419 

Bloody Conflict in the Pass ...... 420 

Enemy give Ground ........ 421 

Spaniards clear the Pass ....... 422 

Cessation of Hostilities . 422 

Results of the Conflict ....... 423 

Troops encamp for the Night 424 


Decisive Victory. — Indian Council. — Night Attack. — 

Negotiations with the Enemy. — Tlascalan Hero . 426 

Envoys to Tlascala ........ 426 

Foraging Party. 427 

Bold Defiance by the Tlascalans ..... 427 

Preparations for Battle . 429 

Appearance of the Tlascalans 430 

Showy Costume of the Warriors 432 

Their Weapons 433 

Desperate Engagement 435 

The Combat thickens 436 

Divisions among the Enemy 437 

Decisive Victory 437 

Triumph of Science over Numbers ...... 439 

Dread of the Cavalry ........ 440 

Indian Council 440 

Night Attack 441 

Spaniards victorious 442 

Embassy to Tlascala 442 




Peace with the Enemy 443 

Patriotic Spirit of their Chief 444 


Discontents in the Army. — Tlascalan Spies. — Peace 

with the Republic. — Embassy from Montezuma . 446 

Spaniards scour the Country 446 

Success of the Foray . 447 

Discontents in the Camp 448 

Representations of the Malecontents 449 

Reply of Cortes 450 

Difficulties of the Enterprise 452 

Mutilation of the Spies 453 

Interview with the Tlascalan Chief 455 

Peace with the Republic ....*.. 456 

Embassy from Montezuma 457 

Declines to receive the Spaniards 458 

They advance towards the City 460 


Spaniards enter Tlascala. — Description of the Capi- 
tal. — Attempted Conversion. — Aztec Embassy. — 

Invited to Cholula 461 

Spaniards enter Tlascala ....... 461 

Rejoicings on their Arrival 462 

Description of Tlascala 463 

Its Houses and Streets 464 

Its Fairs and Police 464 

Divisions of the City 465 

Wild Scenery round Tlascala 465 

Character of the Tlascalans . 466 

Vigilance of Cortes ........ 467 

Attempted Conversion . 468 

Resistance of the Natives 468 

Zeal of Cortes 469 

Prudence of the Friar 469 



Character of Olmedo 470 

Mass celebrated in Tlascala 471 

The Indian Maidens 471 

Aztec Embassy 472 

Power of Montezuma 473 

Embassy from Ixtlilxochiti 474 

Deputies from Cholula 475 

Invitation to Cholula ........ 476 

Prepare to leave Tlascala . 476 



The maps for this work are the result of a laborious investigation 
by a skilful and competent hand. Humboldt's are the only maps of 
New Spain which can lay claim to the credit even of tolerable accu- 
racy. They have been adopted as the basis of those for the present 
history ; and an occasional deviation from them has been founded on 
a careful comparison with the verbal accounts of Gomara, Bernal 
Diaz, Clavigero, and, above all, of Cortes, illustrated by his meagre 
commentator, Lorenzana. Of these, Cortes is generally the most full 
and exact in his statement of distances, though it is to be regretted 
that he does not more frequently afford a hint as to the bearings of the 
places. As it is desirable to present the reader with a complete and 
unembarrassed view of the route of Cortes, the names of all other 
places than those which occur in this work have been discarded, while 
a considerable number have been now introduced which are not to be 
found on any previous chart. The position of these must necessarily 
be, in some degree, hypothetical ; but, as it has been determined by a 
study of the narratives of contemporary historians and by the measure- 
ment of distances, the result, probably, cannot in any instance be much 
out of the way. The ancient names have been retained, so as to 
present a map of the country as it was at the time of the Conquest. 


This engraving of Cortes was taken from a full-length portrait, pre- 
sented to me by my friend Don Angel Calderon de la Barca, during 
his residence as minister to Mexico. It is a copy, and, as I am 
assured, a very faithful one, from the painting in the Hospital of Jesus. 
This painting is itself a copy from one taken, probably, a few years 
before the death of Cortes, on his last visit to Spain. What has be- 


come of the original is not known. That in Mexico was sent there 
by one of the family of Monteleone, descendants of the Conqueror, 
as appears from his arms, which the painter has introduced in a corner 
of the picture. This seems to be regarded by the family as the best 
portrait of the Conqueror, and a copy, like that in my possession, has 
been recently made for the present Duke of Monteleone in Italy. It 
has never before been engraved. 


The original portrait was said to have been painted by an artist 
named Maldonado, who came over to Mexico at the time of the Con- 
quest. It belonged to the Counts of Miravalle, and, not many years 
since, came into the possession of Mr. Smith Wilcox, consul from the 
United States to Mexico. Of the authenticity of this portrait I have 
received opposite opinions, and these, too, from the most respectable 
sources in Mexico ; the one representing it as undoubtedly genuine, 
the other regarding it as an ideal portrait, painted after the Conquest, 
to adorn the halls of the Counts of Miravalle, and to flatter their 
pride by the image of their royal progenitor. The countenance must 
be admitted to wear a tinge of soft and not unpleasing melancholy, 
quite in harmony with the fortunes of the unhappy monarch. 


This likeness of Cortes was originally engraved for that inquisitive 
scholar and industrious collector, Don Antonio Uguina, of Madrid, 
from what he considered the best portrait of Cortes. The original is, 
I am informed, the same portrait which now hangs in the Museo, 
among the series of viceroys, at Mexico. It must have been taken at 
a much earlier period of life than the portrait in the Hospital of Jesus, 
in which both the hair and beard are somewhat grizzled with years. 
The expression of the countenance, of a higher and more intellectual 
cast than the preceding, has a quiet, contemplative air, not to have 
been expected in one of the stirring character of Cortes. 


The stamp on the back of the work represents the arms granted by 
letters patent to Cortes by the Emperor Charles V., March 7, 1525. 
In the instrument it is stated that the double-headed eagle is given 


as the arms of the empire ; the golden lion, in memory of the courage 
and constancy shown by Cortes in the conquest of Mexico ; the three 
gold crowns indicate the three monarchs whom he successively 
opposed in the capital of Mexico ; the city represents that capital ; 
and the seven heads held together by a chain, on the border of the 
shield, denote so many Indian princes whom he subdued in the 


15' 30' 5 

56' 50 45' 40' 35' 30' 25' 

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45' 40' 36' 30' 25' 

Hong". T*r fmm Greemkli 


C<Dl®"QinE§T ©F MiKXirc (. 










Of all that extensive empire which once acknowl- 
edged the authority of Spain in the New World, no 
portion, for interest and importance, can be compared 
with Mexico ; — and this equally, whether we consider 
the variety of its soil and climate ; the inexhaustible 
stores of its mineral wealth ; its scenery, grand and 
picturesque beyond example; the character of its 
ancient inhabitants, not only far surpassing in intel- 
ligence that of the other North American races, but 
reminding us, by their monuments, of the primitive 
civilization of Egypt and Hindostan ; or, lastly, the 
peculiar circumstances of its Conquest, adventurous 
and romantic as any legend devised by Norman or 
Italian bard of chivalry. It is the purpose of the 
present narrative to exhibit the history of this Con- 
Vol. I.— A I 


quest, and that of the remarkable man by whom it 
was achieved. 

But, in order that the reader may have a better 
understanding of the subject, it will be well, before 
entering on it, to take a general survey of the political 
and social institutions of the races who occupied the 
land at the time of its discovery. 

The country of the ancient Mexicans, or Aztecs as 
they were called, formed but a very small part of 
the extensive territories comprehended in the modern 
republic of Mexico. 1 Its boundaries cannot be defined 
with certainty. They were much enlarged in the latter 
days of the empire, when they may be considered as 
reaching from about the eighteenth degree north, to 
the twenty-first, on the Atlantic ; and from the four- 
teenth to the nineteenth, including a very narrow 
strip, on the Pacific* In its greatest breadth, it could 

1 Extensive indeed, if we may trust Archbishop Lorenzana, who 
tells us, " It is doubtful if the country of New Spain does not border 
on Tartary and Greenland ; — by the way of California, on the former, 
and by New Mexico, on the latter " ! Historia de Nueva-Espafia 
(Mexico, 1770), p. 38, nota. 

B I have conformed to the limits fixed by Clavigero. He has, prob- 
ably, examined the subject with more thoroughness and fidelity than 
most of his countrymen, who differ from him, and who assign a more 
liberal extent to the monarchy. (See his Storia antica del Messico 
(Cesena, 1780), dissert. 7.) The abbe\ however, has not informed his 
readers on what frail foundations his conclusions rest. The extent of 
the Aztec empire is to be gathered from the writings of historians 
since the arrival of the Spaniards, and from the picture-rolls of tribute 
paid by the conquered cities ; both sources extremely vague and 
defective. See the MSS. of the Mendoza collection, in Lord Kings- 
borough's magnificent publication (Antiquities of Mexico, comprising 
Facsimiles of Ancient Paintings and Hieroglyphics, together with the 
Monuments of New Spain. London, 1830). The difficulty of the 


not exceed five degrees and a half, dwindling, as it 
approached its southeastern limits, to less than two. 
It covered, probably, less than sixteen thousand square 
leagues. 3 Yet such is the remarkable formation of this 
country, that, though not more than twice as large as 
New England, it presented every variety of climate, 
and was capable of yielding nearly every fruit, found 
between the equator and the Arctic circle. 

All along the Atlantic, the country is bordered by a 
broad tract, called the tierra caliente, or hot region, 
which has the usual high temperature of equinoctial 
lands. Parched and sandy plains are intermingled 
with others, of exuberant fertility, almost impervious 
from thickets of aromatic shrubs and wild flowers, in 
the midst of which tower up trees of that magnificent 

inquiry is much increased by the fact of the conquests having been 
made, as will be seen hereafter, by the united arms of three powers, 
so that it is not always easy to tell to which party they eventually 
belonged. The affair is involved in so much uncertainty that Clavi- 
gero, notwithstanding the positive assertions in his text, has not ven- 
tured, in his map, to define the precise limits of the empire, either 
towards the north, where it mingles with the Tezcucan empire, or 
towards the south, where, indeed, he has fallen into the egregious 
blunder of asserting that, while the Mexican territory reached to the 
fourteenth degree, it did not include any portion of Guatemala. (See 
torn. i. p. 29, and torn. iv. dissert. 7.) The Tezcucan chronicler 
Ixtlilxochitl puts in a sturdy claim for the paramount empire of his 
own nation. Historia Chichimeca, MS., cap. 39, 53, et alibi. 

3 Eighteen to twenty thousand, according to Humboldt, who con- 
siders the Mexican territory to have been the same with that occupied 
by the modern intendancies of Mexico, Puebla, Vera Cruz, Oaxaca, 
and Valladolid. (Essai politique sur le Royaume de Nouvelle- 
Espagne (Paris, 1825), torn. i. p. 196.) This last, however, was all. 
or nearly all, included in the rival kingdom of Michoacan, as he 
himself more correctly states in another part of his work. Comp. 
torn. ii. p. 164. 


growth which is found only within the tropics. In 
this wilderness of sweets lurks the fatal malaria, en- 
gendered, probably, by the decomposition of rank 
vegetable substances in a hot and humid soil. The 
season of the bilious fever, — vbmito, as it is called, — 
which scourges these coasts, continues from the spring 
to the autumnal equinox, when it is checked by the 
cold winds that descend from Hudson's Bay. These 
winds in the winter season frequently freshen into 
tempests, and, sweeping down the Atlantic coast and 
the winding Gulf of Mexico, burst with the fury of a 
hurricane on its unprotected shores, and on the neigh- 
boring West India islands. Such are the mighty spells 
with which Nature has surrounded this land of enchant- 
ment, as if to guard the golden treasures locked up 
within its bosom. The genius and enterprise of man 
have proved more potent than her spells. 

After passing some twenty leagues across this burn- 
ing region, the traveller finds himself rising into a 
purer atmosphere. His limbs recover their elasticity. 
He breathes more freely, for his senses are not now 
oppressed by the sultry heats and intoxicating perfumes 
of the valley. The aspect of nature, too, has changed, 
and his eye no longer revels among the gay variety of 
colors with which the landscape was painted there. 
The vanilla, the indigo, and the flowering cacao-groves 
disappear as he advances. The sugar-cane and the 
glossy-leaved banana still accompany him ; and, when 
he has ascended about four thousand feet, he sees in 
the unchanging verdure, and the rich foliage of the 
liquid-amber tree, that he has reached the height where 
clouds and mists settle, in their passage from the Mex- 


ican Gulf. This is the region of perpetual humidity ; 
but he welcomes it with pleasure, as announcing his 
escape from the influence of the deadly vbmito.* He 
has entered the tierra templada, or temperate region 
whose character resembles that of the temperate zone 
of the globe. The features of the scenery become 
grand, and even terrible. His road sweeps along the 
base of mighty mountains, once gleaming with volcanic 
fires, and still resplendent in their mantles of snow, 
which serve as beacons to the mariner, for many a 
league at sea. All around he beholds traces of their 
ancient combustion, as his road passes along vast tracts 
of lava, bristling in the innumerable fantastic forms 
into which the fiery torrent has been thrown by the 
obstacles in its career. Perhaps, at the same moment, 
as he casts his eye down some steep slope, or almost 
unfathomable ravine, on the margin of the road, he 
sees their depths glowing with the rich blooms and 
enamelled vegetation of the tropics. Such are the 
singular contrasts presented, at the same time, to the 
senses, in this picturesque region ! 

Still pressing upwards, the traveller mounts into 
other climates, favorable to other kinds of cultivation. 

4 The traveller who enters the country across the dreary sand-hills 
of Vera Cruz will hardly recognize the truth of the above descrip- 
tion. He must look for it in other parts of the tierra caliente. Of 
recent tourists, no one has given a more gorgeous picture of the 
impressions made on his senses by these sunny regions than Latrobe, 
who came on shore at Tampico (Rambler in Mexico (New York, 
1836), chap. 1), — a traveller, it may be added, whose descriptions of 
man and nature in our own country, where we can judge, are distin- 
guished by a sobriety and fairness that entitle him to confidence in 
his delineation of other countries. 



The yellow maize, or Indian corn, as we usually call it, 
has continued to follow him up from the lowest level ; 
but he now first sees fields of wheat, and the other 
European grains brought into the country by the Con- 
querors. Mingled with them, he views the plantations 
of the aloe or maguey {agave Americana), applied to 
such various and important uses by the Aztecs. The 
oaks now acquire a sturdier growth, and the dark 
forests of pine announce that he has entered the tierra 
fria, or cold region, — the third and last of the great 
natural terraces into which the country is divided. 
When he has climbed to the height of between seven 
and eight thousand feet, the weary traveller sets his 
foot on the summit of the Cordillera of the Andes, — 
the colossal range that, after traversing South America 
and the Isthmus of Darien, spreads out, as it enters 
Mexico, into that vast sheet of table-land which main- 
tains an elevation of more than six thousand feet, for 
the distance of nearly two hundred leagues, until it 
gradually declines in the higher latitudes of the north. 5 
Across this mountain rampart a chain of volcanic 
hills stretches, in a westerly direction, of still more 
stupendous dimensions, forming, indeed, some of the 
highest land on the globe. Their peaks, entering the 
limits of perpetual snow, diffuse a grateful coolness over 
the elevated plateaus below; for these last, though 
termed "cold," enjoy a climate the mean temperature 
of which is not lower than that of the central parts of 

S This long extent of country varies in elevation from 5570 to 8856 
feet, — equal to the height of the passes of Mount Cenis or the Great St. 
Bernard. The table-land stretches still three hundred leagues farther, 
before it declines to a level of 2624 feet. Humboldt, Essai politique, 
torn. i. pp. 157, 255. 


Italy. 6 The air is exceedingly dry; the soil, though 
naturally good, is rarely clothed with the luxuriant 
vegetation of the lower regions. It frequently, indeed, 
has a parched and barren aspect, owing partly to the 
greater evaporation which takes place on these lofty 
plains, through the diminished pressure of the atmos- 
phere, and partly, no doubt, to the want of trees to 
shelter the soil from the fierce influence of the summer 
sun. In the time of the Aztecs, the table-land was 
thickly covered with larch, oak, cypress, and other 
forest trees, the extraordinary dimensions of some of 
which, remaining to the present day, show that the 
curse of barrenness in later times is chargeable more 
on man than on nature. Indeed, the early Spaniards 
made as indiscriminate war on the forest as did our 
Puritan ancestors, though with much less reason. 
After once conquering the country, they had no lurk- 
ing ambush to fear from the submissive, semi-civilized 
Indian, and were not, like our forefathers, obliged to 
keep watch and ward for a century. This spoliation 
of the ground, however, is said to have been pleasing 
to their imaginations, as it reminded them of the plains 
of their own Castile, — the table-land of Europe ; 7 where 

6 About 62 Fahrenheit, or 17 Reaumur. (Humboldt, Essai po- 
litique, torn. i. p. 273.) The more elevated plateaus of the table-land, 
as the Valley of Toluca, about 8500 feet above the sea, have a stern 
climate, in which the thermometer, during a great part of the day, 
rarely rises beyond 45 F. Idem (loc. cit.), and Malte-Brun (Univer- 
sal Geography, Eng. trans., book 83), who is, indeed, in this part of 
his work, but an echo of the former writer. 

1 The elevation of the Castiles, according to the authority repeatedly 
cited, is about 350 toises, or 2100 feet above the ocean. (Humboldt's 
Dissertation, apud Laborde, Itineraire descriptif de l'Espagne (Paris, 
1827), torn. i. p. 5.) It is rare to find plains in Europe of so great a height. 


the nakedness of the landscape forms the burden of 
every traveller's lament who visits that country. 

Midway across the continent, somewhat nearer the 
Pacific than the Atlantic Ocean, at an elevation of 
nearly seven thousand five hundred feet, is the cele- 
brated Valley of Mexico. It is of an oval form, about 
sixty-seven leagues in circumference, 8 and is encom- 
passed by a towering rampart of porphyritic rock, 
which nature seems to have provided, though ineffect- 
ually, to protect it from invasion. 

The soil, once carpeted with a beautiful verdure and 
thickly sprinkled with stately trees, is often bare, and, in 
many places, white with the incrustation of salts caused 
by the draining of the waters. Five lakes are spread 
over the Valley, occupying one-tenth of its surface. 9 
On the opposite borders of the largest of these basins, 
much shrunk in its dimensions 10 since the days of the 

8 Archbishop Lorenzana estimates the circuit of the Valley at ninety 
leagues, correcting at the same time the statement of Cortes, which 
puts it at seventy, very near the truth, as appears from the result of 
M. de Humboldt's measurement, cited in the text. Its length is about 
eighteen leagues, by twelve and a half in breadth. (Humboldt, Essai 
politique, torn. ii. p. 29. — Lorenzana, Hist, de Nueva-Espaiia, p. 101.) 
Humboldt's map of the Valley of Mexico forms the third in his " Atlas 
g^ographique et physique," and, like all the others in the collection, 
will be found of inestimable value to the traveller, the geologist, and 
the historian. 

9 Humboldt, Essai politique, torn. ii. pp. 29, 44-49. — Malte-Brun, 
book 85. This latter geographer assigns only 6700 feet for the level 
of the Valley, contradicting himself (comp. book 83), or rather Hum- 
boldt, to whose pages he helps himself plenis manibus, somewhat too 
liberally, indeed, for the scanty references at the bottom of his page. 

10 Torquemada accounts in part for this diminution by supposing 
that, as God permitted the waters, which once covered the whole 
earth, to subside after mankind had been nearly exterminated for their 


Aztecs, stood the cities of Mexico and Tezcuco, the 
capitals of the two most potent and flourishing states 
of Anahuac, whose history, with that of the mysterious 
races that preceded them in the country,* exhibits 

iniquities, so he allowed the waters of the Mexican lake to subside, in 
token of good will and reconciliation, after the idolatrous races of the 
land had been destroyed by the Spaniards ! (Monarchia Indiana 
(Madrid, 1723), torn. i. p. 309.) Quite as probable, if not as orthodox, 
an explanation, may be found in the active evaporation of these upper 
regions, and in the fact of an immense drain having been constructed, 
during the lifetime of the good father, to reduce the waters of the 
principal lake and protect the capital from inundation. 

* [It is perhaps to be regretted that, instead of a meagre notice of the 
Toltecs with a passing allusion to earlier races, the author did not 
give a separate chapter to the history of the country during the ages 
preceding the Conquest. That history, it is true, resting on tradition 
or on questionable records mingled with legendary and mythological 
relations, is full of obscurity and doubt. But, whatever its uncertainty 
in regard to details, it presents a mass of general facts supported by 
analogy and by the stronger evidence of language and of the existing 
relics of the past. The number and diversity of the architectural and 
other remains found on the soil of Mexico and the adjacent regions, 
and the immense variety of the spoken languages, with the vestiges of 
others that have passed out of use, — all perhaps derived originally from 
a common stock, but exhibiting different stages of development or 
decay, and capable of being classified into several distinct families, — 
point to conclusions that render the subject one of the most attractive 
fields for critical investigation. These concurrent testimonies leave no 
doubt that, like portions of the Old World similarly favored in regard 
to climate, soil, and situation, the central regions of America were 
occupied from a very remote period- by nations which made distinct 
advances in civilization, and passed through a cycle of revolutions 
comparable to that of which the Valley of the Euphrates and other 
parts of Asia were anciently the scene. The useful arts were known 
and practised, wealth was accumulated, social systems exhibiting a 
certain refinement and a peculiar complexity were organized, states 
were established which flourished, decayed, — either from the effects of 


some of the nearest approaches to civilization to be met 
with anciently on the North American continent. 

Of these races the most conspicuous were the Toltecs. 
Advancing from a northerly direction, but from what 
region is uncertain,* they entered the territory of Ana- 
isolation or an inherent incapacity for continuance, — and were finally 
overthrown by invaders, by whom the experiment was repeated, though 
not always with equal success. Some of these nations passed away, 
leaving no trace but their names ; others, whose very names are un- 
known, left mysterious monuments imbedded in the soil or records 
that are undecipherable. Of those that still remain, comprising about 
a dozen distinct races speaking a hundred and twenty different dialects, 
we have the traditions preserved either in their own records or in those 
of the Spanish discoverers. The task of constructing out of these mate- 
rials a history shorn of the adornments of mythology and fable has been 
attempted by the Abb^ Brasseur de Bourbourg (Histoire des Nations 
civilisees du Mexique et de l'Amerique-Centrale, durant les Siecles 
anterieurs a Christophe Colomb, 4 vols., Paris, 1857-59), an di whatever 
may be thought of the method he has pursued, his research is un- 
questionable, and his views — very different from those which he has 
since put forth — merit attention. A more practical effort has been 
made by Don Manuel Orozco y Berra to trace the order, diffusion, 
and relations of the various races by the differences, the intermixtures, 
and the geographical limits of their languages. (Geografia de las 
Lenguas y Carta etnografica de Mexico, precedidas de un Ensayo de 
Clasificacion de las mismas Lenguas y de Apuntes para las Inmigra- 
ciones de las Tribus, Mexico, 1864.) — ED.] 

* [The uncertainty is not diminished by our being told that Tollan, 
Tullan, Tulan, or Tula (called also Tlapallan and Huehuetlapallan) 
was the original seat of this people, since we are still left in doubt 
whether the country so designated — like Aztlan, the supposed point 
of departure of the Aztecs — is to be located in New Mexico, Cali- 
fornia, the northwestern extremity of America, or in Asia, M. Bras- 
seur de Bourbourg (whose later speculations, in which the name 
plays a conspicuous part, will be noticed more appropriately in the 
Appendix) found in the Quiche manuscripts mention of four Tollans, 
one of them " in the east, on the other side of the sea." " But," he adds, 
"in what part of the world is it to be placed? C'est fa encore unt 


huac," probably before the close of the seventh century. 
Of course, little can be gleaned with certainty respect- 

11 Anahuac, according to Humboldt, comprehended only the coun- 
try between the fourteenth and twenty-first degrees of north latitude. 

question bien difficile & resoudre." (Hist, des Nations civilisees 
du Mexique, torn. i. pp. 167, 168.) Nor will the etymology much 
help us. According to Buschmann, Tollan is derived from to/in, 
reed, and signifies " place of reeds," — " Ort der Binsen, Platz mit 
Binsen gewachsen, juncetum." (Uber die aztekischen Ortsnamen, 
S. 682.) He refers, however, to a different derivation, suggested by a 
writer who has made it the basis of one of those extraordinary theo- 
ries which are propounded from time to time, to account for the first 
diffusion of the human race, and more particularly for the original 
settlement of America. According to this theory, the cradle of man- 
kind was the Himalayan Mountains. " But the collective name of 
these lofty regions was very anciently designated by appellations the 
roots of which were Tal, Tol, Tul, meaning tall, high, . . . as it does 
yet in many languages, the English, Chinese, and Arabic for instance. 
Such were Tolo, T'hala, Talaha, Tulan, etc., in the old Sanscrit and 
primitive languages of Asia. Whence came the Asiatic Atlas and 
also the Atlantes of the Greeks, who, spreading through the world 
westerly, gave these names to many other places and nations. . . . 
The Talas or Atlantes occupied or conquered Europe and Africa, nay, 
went to America in very early times. ... In Greece they became 
Atalantes, Talautians of Epirus, Aetolians. . . . They gave name to 
Italy, Aitala meaning land eminent, ... to the Atlantic Ocean, and 
to the great Atlantis, or America, called in the Hindu books Atala 
or Tala-tolo, the fourth world, where dwelt giants or powerful men. 
. . . America is also filled with their names and deeds from Mexico 
and Carolina to Peru: the Tol-tecas, people of Tol, and Aztlan, 
Otolum near Palenque, many towns of Tula and Tolu ; the Talas of 
Michuacan, the Matalans, Atalans, Tulukis, etc., of North America." 
(C. S. Rafinesque, Atlantic Journal, Philadelphia, 1832-33.) It need 
hardly be added that Tula has also been identified with the equally 
unknown and long-sought-for ultima Thule, with the simplifying effect 
of bringing two streams of inquiry into one channel. Meanwhile, by 
a different kind of criticism, the whole question is dissipated into thin 
air, Tollan and Aztlan being resolved into names of mere mythical 


ing a people whose written records have perished, and 
who are known to us only through the traditionary 
legends of the nations that succeeded them." By the 

(Essai politique, torn. i. p. 197.) According to Clavigero, it included 
nearly all since known as New Spain. (Stor. del Messico, torn. i. p. 
27.) Veytia uses it, also, as synonymous with New Spain. (Historia 
antigua de Mejico (Mejico, 1836), torn. i. cap. 12.) The first of these 
writers probably allows too little, as the latter do too much, for its 
boundaries. Ixtlilxochitl says it extended four hundred leagues south 
of the Otomi country. (Hist. Chichimeca, MS., cap. 73.) The word 
Anahuac signifies near the water. It was, probably, first applied to 
the country around the lakes in the Mexican Valley, and gradually 
extended to the remoter regions occupied by the Aztecs and the other 
semi-civilized races. Or possibly the name may have been intended, 
as Veytia suggests (Hist, antig., lib. 1, cap. i), to denote the land 
between the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific.® 

18 Clavigero talks of Boturini's having written " on the faith of the 
Toltec historians." (Stor. del Messico, torn. i. p. 128.) But that 
scholar does not pretend to have ever met with a Toltec manuscript 
himself, and had heard of only one in the possession of Ixtlilxochitl. 
(See his Idea de una nueva Historia general de la America Septentrional 
(Madrid, 1746), p. no.) The latter writer tells us that his account of 
the Toltec and Chichimec races was " derived from interpretation" 

import, and the regions thus designated transferred from the earth to 
the bright domain of the sky, from which the descriptions in the 
legends appear to have been borrowed. See Brinton, Myths of the 
New World, pp. 88, 89. — ED.] 

* [This suggestion of Veytia is unworthy of attention, — refuted by 
the actual application and appropriateness of the name, and by the 
state of geographical knowledge and ideas at the period when it must 
have originated. A modern traveller, describing the appearance of 
the great plains as seen from the summit of Popocatepetl, remarks, 
" Even now that the lakes have shrunk to a fraction of their former 
size, we could see the fitness of the name given in old times to the 
Valley of Mexico, Anahuac, that is, By the water-side." Tylor, Ana- 
huac : or Mexico and the Mexicans, Ancient and Modem (London, 
1861), p. 270.— Ed.] 



general agreement of these, however, the Toltecs were 
well instructed in agriculture and many of the most 
useful mechanic arts ; were nice workers of metals ; 
invented the complex arrangement of time adopted by 
the Aztecs ; and, in short, were the true fountains of 
the civilization which distinguished this part of the 
continent in later times. 13 They established their capi- 
tal at Tula, north of the Mexican Valley, and the re- 
mains of extensive buildings were to be discerned there 
at the time of the Conquest. 14 The noble ruins of 
religious and other edifices, still to be seen in various 
parts of New Spain, are referred to this people, whose 

(probably of the Tezcucan paintings), " and from the traditions of old 
men;" poor authority for events which had passed centuries before. 
Indeed, he acknowledges that their narratives were so full of absurdity 
and falsehood that he was obliged to reject nine-tenths of them. (See 
his Relaciones, MS., no. 5.) The cause of truth would not have 
suffered much, probably, if he had rejected nine-tenths of the re- 

»3 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 2. — Idem, Relaciones, MS., 
no. 2. — Sahagun, Historia general de las Cosas de Nueva-Espafia 
(Mexico, 1829), lib. 10, cap. 29. — Veytia, Hist, antig., lib. 1, cap. 27. 

M Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 10, cap. 29. 

* [Ixtlilxochitl's language does not necessarily imply that he con- 
sidered any of the relations he had received as false or absurd, nor 
does he say that he had rejected nine-tenths of them. What he has 
written is, he asserts, " the true history of the Toltecs," though it does 
not amount to nine-tenths of the whole (" de lo que ello fue"), i.e., 
of what had been contained in the original records ; these records hav- 
ing perished, and he himself having abridged the accounts he had 
been able to obtain of their contents, as well for the sake of brevity 
as because of the marvellous character of the relations (" son tan 
estranas las cosas y tan peregrinas y nunca oidas"). The sources of 
his information are also incorrectly described; but a further mention 
of them will be found in a note at the end of this Book. — Ed.] 
Vol. I.— 2 


name, Toltec, has passed into a synonym for architect. 11 
Their shadowy history reminds us of those primitive 
races who preceded the ancient Egyptians in the march 
of civilization ; fragments of whose monuments, as they 
are seen at this day, incorporated with the buildings 
of the Egyptians themselves, give to these latter the 
appearance of almost modern constructions. 16 

After a period of four centuries, the Toltecs, who 
had extended their sway over the remotest borders of 
Anahuac, 17 having been greatly reduced, it is said, by 
famine, pestilence, and unsuccessful wars, disappeared 
from the land as silently and mysteriously as they had 
entered it. A few of them still lingered behind, but 
much the greater number, probably, spread over the 
region of Central America and the neighboring isles ; 
and the traveller now speculates on the majestic ruins 
of Mitla and Palenque, as possibly the work of this 
extraordinary people. 18 * 

X S Sahagun, ubi supra. — Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. i, cap. 14. 

16 Description de l'fegypte (Paris, 1809), Antiquites, torn. i. cap. 1. 
Veytia has traced the migrations of the Toltecs with sufficient industry, 
scarcely rewarded by the necessarily doubtful credit of the results. 
Hist, antig., lib. 2, cap. 21-33. 

'7 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 73. 

18 Veytia, Hist, antig., lib. 1, cap. 33. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., 
MS., cap. 3. — Idem, Relaciones, MS., nos. 4, 5. — Father Torque- 
mada — perhaps misinterpreting the Tezcucan hieroglyphics — has ac- 
counted for this mysterious disappearance of the Toltecs by such 
fee-faw-fum stories of giants and demons as show his appetite for the 
marvellous was fully equal to that of any of his calling. See his 
Monarch. Ind., lib. 1, cap. 14. 

* [This supposition, neither adopted nor rejected in the text, was, 
as Mr. Tylor remarks, " quite tenable at the time that Prescott wrote," 
being founded on the statements of early writers and partially sup- 


After the lapse of another hundred years, a numer- 
ous and rude tribe, called the Chichimecs, entered the 
deserted country from the regions of the far North- 
west. They were speedily followed by other races, of 
higher civilization, perhaps of the same family with 
the Toltecs, whose language they appear to have spoken. 
The most noted of these were the Aztecs or Mexicans, 
and the Acolhuans. The latter, better known in later 
times by the name of Tezcucans, from their capital, 
Tezcuco, 19 on the eastern border of the Mexican lake, 

*9 Tezcuco signifies "place of detention;" as several of the tribes 
who successively occupied Anahuac were said to have halted some 
time at the spot. Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 10* 

ported by the conclusions of Mr. Stephens, who believed that the 
ruined cities of Oaxaca, Chiapa, Yucatan, and Guatemala dated from 
a comparatively recent period, and were still flourishing at the time of 
the Spanish Conquest ; and that their inhabitants, the ancestors, as he 
contends, of the degenerate race that now occupies the soil, were of 
the same stock and spoke the same language as the Mexicans. (Inci- 
dents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan.) But these 
opinions have been refuted by later investigators. Orozco y Berra, in 
an elaborate and satisfactory examination of the question, discusses 
all the evidence relating to it, compares the remains in the southern 
provinces with those of the Valley of Mexico, points out the essential 
differences in the architecture, sculpture, and inscriptions, and arrives 
at the conclusion that there was " no point of contact or resemblance " 
between the two civilizations. He considers that of the southern 
provinces, though of a far higher grade, as long anterior in time to 
the Toltec domination, — the work of a people which had passed away, 
under the assaults of barbarism, at a period prior to all traditions, 
leaving no name and no trace of their existence save those monu- 
ments which, neglected and forgotten by their successors, have become 
the riddle of later generations. Geografia de las Lenguas de Mexico, 
pp. 122-131. See also Tylor, Anahuac, p. 189, et seq. — Ed.] 

* [" "Ober die Etymologie lasst sich nichts sicheres sagen," says 
Buschmann, " so zuversichtlich auch Prescott, wohl nach Ixtlilxochitl, 


were peculiarly fitted, by their comparatively mild 
religion and manners, for receiving the tincture of 
civilization which could be derived from the few Tol- 
tecs that still remained in the country.* This, in their 
turn, they communicated to the barbarous Chichimecs, 
a large portion of whom became amalgamated with 
the new settlers as one nation. 20 

30 The historian speaks, in one page, of the Chichimecs burrowing 
in caves ; or, at best, in cabins of straw, and, in the next, talks gravely 
of their sehoras, infantas, and caballeros /f Ibid., cap. 9, et seq. — 
Veytia, Hist, antig., lib. 2, cap. 1-10. — Camargo, Historia de Tlascala, 

den Namen durch place of detention iibersetzt." Uber die aztekischen 
Ortsnamen, S. 697. — Ed.] 

* [It is difficult to reconcile the two statements that the Toltecs 
" were the true fountains of the civilization which distinguished this part 
of the continent in later times," and that they " disappeared from the 
land as silently and mysteriously as they had entered it," leaving an 
interval of more than a century before the appearance of the Aztecs 
and the Acolhuans. If the latter received from the former the knowl- 
edge of those arts in which they speedily rivalled them, it must have 
been by more direct, communication and transmission than can be 
inferred from the mention of a small fraction of the Toltec population 
as remaining in the country, — a fact which has itself the appearance 
of having been invented to meet the difficulty. Orozco y Berra 
compares this transitional period with that which followed the over- 
throw of the Roman Empire ; but if in the former case there was, in 
his own words, " no conquest, but only an occupation, no war because 
no one to contend with," the analogy altogether fails. Brasseur de 
Bourbourg reduces the interval between the departure of the Toltecs 
and the arrival of the Chichimecs to a few years, and supposes that 
a considerable number of the former inhabitants remained scattered 
through the Valley. If, however, it be allowable to substitute proba- 
bilities for doubtful relations, it is an easier solution to believe that no 
interval occurred and that no emigration took place. — Ed.] 

f [The confusion arises from the fact that the name of Chichimecs, 
originally that of a single tribe, and subsequently of its many offshoots, 



Availing themselves of the strength derived, not 
only from this increase of numbers, but from their own 
superior refinement, the Acolhuans gradually stretched 
their empire over the ruder tribes in the north ; while 
their capital was filled with a numerous population, 
busily employed in many of the more useful and even 
elegant arts of a civilized community. In this palmy 
state, they were suddenly assaulted by a warlike neigh- 
bor, the Tepanecs, their own kindred, and inhabitants 
of the same valley as themselves. Their provinces 
were overrun, their armies beaten, their king assassin- 
ated, and the flourishing city of Tezcuco became the 
prize of the victor. From this abject condition the 
uncommon abilities of the young prince, Nezahual- 
coyotl, the rightful heir to the crown, backed by the 
efficient aid of his Mexican allies, at length redeemed 
the state, and opened to it a new career of prosperity, 
even more brilliant than the former. 21 

The Mexicans, with whom our history is principally 
concerned, came also, as we have seen, from the remote 
regions of the North, — the populous hive of nations 
in the New World, as it has been in the Old.* They 

21 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 9-20. — Veytia, Hist, antig., 
lib. 2, cap. 29-54. 

was also used, like the term barbarians in mediaeval Italy, to designate 
successive hordes, of whatever race, being sometimes employed as a 
mark of contempt, and sometimes assumed as an honorable appella- 
tion. It is found applied to the Otomies, the Toltecs, and many other 
races. — Ed.] 

* [Some recent writers have contended that Mexico must have been 

peopled originally by migrations from the South. Aztec names and 

communities, and traces of Toltec settlements long anterior to the 

occupation of Anahuac by the same people, are found in several parts 



arrived on the borders of Anahuac towards the begin- 
ning of the thirteenth century, some time after the 
occupation of the land by the kindred races. For a 
long time they did not establish themselves in any 
permanent residence, but continued shifting their quar- 
ters to different parts of the Mexican Valley, enduring 
all the casualties and hardships of a migratory life. 
On one occasion they were enslaved by a more power- 
ful tribe; but their ferocity soon made them formi- 
dable to their masters." After a series of wanderings 
and adventures which need not shrink from comparison 

23 These were the Colhuans, not Acolhuans, with whom Humboldt, 
and most writers since, have confounded them.* See his Essai poli- 
tique, torn. i. p. 414 ; ii. p. 37. 

of Central America. The most primitive traditions, as well as the re- 
mains of the earliest civilization, belong also to the same quarter. This 
latter fact, however, is considered by Orozco y Berra as itself an evi- 
dence of the migrations having been from the North, the first comers 
having been naturally attracted southward by a warmer climate and 
more fertile soil, or pushed onward in this direction by successive 
invasions from behind. Contradictory inferences have in like manner 
been drawn from the existence of Aztec remains and settlements in 
New Mexico and Arizona. All that can be said with confidence is 
that neither of the opposing theories rests on a secure and sufficient 
basis. — ED.] 

* [Humboldt, strictly speaking, has not confounded the Colhuans with 
the Acolhuans, but has written, in the places cited, the latter name for 
the former. " Letzterer Name," says Buschmann, " ist der erstere mit 
dem Zusatz von atf/Wasser, — Wasser Colhuer." (Uber die aztekischen 
Ortsnamen, S. 690.) Yet the two tribes, according to the same au- 
thority, were entirely distinct, one alone — though which, he is unable 
to determine — being of the Nahuatlac race. Orozco y Berra, how- 
ever, makes them both of this stock, the Acolhuans being one of the 
main branches, the Colhuans merely the descendants of the Toltec 
remnant in Anahuac. — Ed.] 


with the most extravagant legends of the heroic ages 
of antiquity, they at length halted on the southwestern 
borders of the principal lake, in the year 1325. They 
there beheld, perched on the stem of a prickly pear, 
which shot out from the crevice of a rock that was 
washed by the waves, a royal eagle of extraordinary 
size and beauty, with a serpent in his talons, and his 
broad wings opened to the rising sun. They hailed 
the auspicious omen, announced by an oracle as indi- 
cating the site of their future city, and laid its founda- 
tions by sinking piles into the shallows ; for the low 
marshes were half buried under water. On these they 
erected their light fabrics of reeds and rushes, and 
sought a precarious subsistence from fishing, and from 
the wild fowl which frequented the waters, as well as 
from the cultivation of such simple vegetables as they 
could raise on their floating gardens. The place was 
called Tenochtitlan, in token of its miraculous origin, 
though only known to Europeans by its other name of 
Mexico,* derived from their war-god, Mexitli. 23 The 
legend of its foundation is still further commemorated 
by the device of the eagle and the cactus, which form 
the arms of the modern Mexican republic. Such were 

»3 Clavigero gives good reasons for preferring the etymology of 
Mexico above noticed, to various others. (See his Stor. del Messico, 
torn. i. p. 168, nota.) The name Tenochtitlan signifies tunal (a cac- 
tus) on a stone. Esplicacion de la Col. de Mendoza, apud Antiq. of 
Mexico, vol. iv. 

* [This is not quite correct, since the form used in the letters of 
Cortes and other early documents is Temixtitan, which is explained as 
a corruption of Tenochtitlan. The letters x and ch are convertible, and 
have the same sound, — that of the English sh. Mexico is Mexitl with 
the place-designation co, tl final being dropped before an affix. — Ed.] 


the humble beginnings of the Venice of the Western 
World. 24 

The forlorn condition of the new settlers was made 
still worse by domestic feuds. A part of the citizens 
seceded from the main body, and formed a separate 
community on the neighboring marshes. Thus divided, 
it was long before they could aspire to the acquisition 
of territory on the main land. They gradually in- 
creased, however, in numbers, and strengthened them- 
selves yet more by various improvements in their polity 
and military discipline, while they established a reputa- 
tion for courage as well as cruelty in war which made 
their name terrible throughout the Valley. In the 
early part of the fifteenth century, nearly a hundred 
years from the foundation of the city, an event took 

»* " Datur hsec venia antiquitati," says Livy, " ut, miscendo humana 
divinis, primordia urbium augustiora faciat." Hist., Prasf. — See, for 
the above paragraph, Col. de Mendoza, plate i, apud Antiq. of 
Mexico, vol. i., — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 10, — Toribio, 
Historia de los Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 8, — Veytia, Hist. antig.,lib. 
2, cap. 15. — Clavigero, after a laborious examination, assigns the 
following dates to some of the prominent events noticed in the text. 
No two authorities agree on them ; and this is not strange, considering 
that Clavigero — the most inquisitive of all — does not always agree 
with himself. (Compare his dates for the coming of the Acolhuans ; 
torn. i. p. 147, and torn, iv., dissert. 2 :) — 


The Toltecs arrived in Anahuac 648 

They abandoned the country 1051 

The Chichimecs arrived 1170 

The Acolhuans arrived about 1200 

The Mexicans reached Tula ........ 1196 

They founded Mexico 1325 

See his dissert. 2, sec. 12. In the last date, the one of most importance, 
he is confirmed by the learned Veytia, who differs from him in all 
the others. Hist, antig., lib. 2, cap. 15. 


place which created an entire revolution in the circum- 
stances and, to some extent, in the character of the 
Aztecs. This was the subversion of the Tezcucan 
monarchy by the Tepanecs, already noticed. When 
the oppressive conduct of the victors had at length 
aroused a spirit of resistance, its prince, Nezahual- 
coyotl, succeeded, after incredible perils and escapes, 
in mustering such a force as, with the aid of the 
Mexicans, placed him on a level with his enemies. In 
two successive battles, these were defeated with great 
slaughter, their chief slain, and their territory, by one 
of those sudden reverses which characterize the wars 
of petty states, passed into the hands of the conquerors. 
It was awarded to Mexico, in return for its important 

Then was formed that remarkable league, which, 
indeed, has no parallel in history. It was agreed 
between the states of Mexico, Tezcuco, and the neigh- 
boring little kingdom of Tlacopan, that they should 
mutually support each other in their wars, offensive and 
defensive, and that in the distribution of the spoil one- 
fifth should be assigned to Tlacopan, and the remainder 
be divided, in what proportions is uncertain, between 
the other powers. The Tezcucan writers claim an 
equal share for their nation with the Aztecs. But this 
does not seem to be warranted by the immense increase 
of territory subsequently appropriated by the latter. 
And we may account for any advantage conceded to 
them by the treaty, on the supposition that, however 
inferior they may have been originally, they were, at 
the time of making it, in a more prosperous condition 
than their allies, broken and dispirited by long op- 


pression. What is more extraordinary than the treaty 
itself, however, is the fidelity with which it was main- 
tained. During a century of uninterrupted warfare 
that ensued, no instance occurred where the parties 
quarrelled over the division of the spoil, which so often 
makes shipwreck of similar confederacies among civil- 
ized states. 23 

The allies for some time found sufficient occupation 
for their arms in their own valley ; but they soon over- 
leaped its rocky ramparts, and by the middle of the 
fifteenth century, under the first Montezuma, had 
spread down the sides of the table-land to the borders 
of the Gulf of Mexico. Tenochtitlan, the Aztec 
capital, gave evidence of the public prosperity. Its 
frail tenements were supplanted by solid structures of 
stone and lime. Its population rapidly increased. Its 
old feuds were healed. The citizens who had seceded 
were again brought under a common government with 
the main body, and the quarter they occupied was 

a S The loyal Tezcucan chronicler claims the supreme dignity for his 
own sovereign, if not the greatest share of the spoil, by this imperial 
compact. (Hist. Chich., cap. 32.) Torquemada, on the other hand, 
claims one-half of all the conquered lands for Mexico. (Monarch. 
Ind., lib. 2, cap. 40.) All agree in assigning only one-fifth to Tlacopan ; 
and Veytia (Hist, an tig., lib. 3, cap. 3) and Zurita (Rapport sur les 
differentes Classes de Chefs de la Nouvelle-Espagne, trad, de Ternaux 
(Paris, 1840), p. 11), both very competent critics, acquiesce in an equal 
division between the two principal states in the confederacy. An ode, 
still extant, of Nezahualcoyotl, in its Castilian version, bears testimony 
to the singular union of the three powers : 

" solo se acordaran en las Naciones 
lo bien que gobernaron 
las ires Cabezas que el Imperio honraron." 

Cantares del Emperador 

Nezahualcoyotl, MS. 


2 3 

permanently connected with the parent city ; the 
dimensions of which, covering the same ground, were 
much larger than those of the modern capital of 
Mexico. 26 

Fortunately, the throne was filled by a succession of 
able princes, who knew how to profit by their enlarged 
resources and by the martial enthusiasm of the nation. 
Year after year saw them return, loaded with the spoils 
of conquered cities, and with throngs of devoted cap- 
tives, to their capital. No state was able long to resist 
the accumulated strength of the confederates. At the 
beginning of the sixteenth century, just before the 
arrival of the Spaniards, the Aztec dominion reached 
across the continent, from the Atlantic to the Pacific ; 
and, under the bold and bloody Ahuitzotl, its arms had 
been carried far over the limits already noticed as 
defining its permanent territory, into the farthest 
corners of Guatemala and Nicaragua. This extent of 
empire, however limited in comparison with that of 
many other states, is truly wonderful, considering it as 
the acquisition of a people whose whole population and 
resources had so recently been comprised within the 
walls of their own petty city, and considering, more- 
over, that the conquered territory was thickly settled 
by various races, bred to arms like the Mexicans, and 
little inferior to them in social organization. The 
history of the Aztecs suggests some strong points of 

26 See the plans of the ancient and modern capital, in Bullock's 
" Mexico," first edition. The original of the ancient map was obtained 
by that traveller from the collection of the unfortunate Boturini ; if, 
as seems probable, it is the one indicated on page 13 of his Catalogue, 
I find no warrant for Mr. Bullock's statement that it was the one pre- 
pared for Cortes by the order of Montezuma. 


resemblance to that of the ancient Romans, not only 
in their military successes, but in the policy which led 
to them. 27 

=7 Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, torn. i. lib. 2. — Torquemada, Mo- 
narch. Ind., torn. i. lib. 2. — Boturini, Idea, p. 146. — Col. of Mendoza, 
Part 1, and Codex Telleriano-Remensis, apud Antiq. of Mexico, vols. 
i., vi. — Machiavelli has noticed it as one great cause of the military- 
successes of the Romans, " that they associated themselves, in their 
wars, with other states, as the principal," and expresses his aston- 
ishment that a similar policy should not have been adopted by ambi- 
tious republics in later times. (See his Discorsi sopra T. Livio, lib. 2, 
cap. 4, apud Opere (Geneva, 1798).) This, as we have seen above, was 
the very course pursued by the Mexicans. 

The most important contribution, of late years, to the early history 
of Mexico is the Historia antigua of the Lie. Don Mariano Veytia, 
published in the city of Mexico, in 1836. This scholar was born of 
an ancient and highly respectable family at Puebla, 1718. After finish- 
ing his academic education, he went to Spain, where he was kindly 
received at court. He afterwards visited several other countries of 
Europe, made himself acquainted with their languages, and returned 
home well stored with the fruits of a discriminating observation and 
diligent study. The rest of his life he devoted to letters ; especially 
to the illustration of the national history and antiquities. As the 
executor of the unfortunate Boturini, with whom he had contracted an 
intimacy in Madrid, he obtained access to his valuable collection of 
manuscripts in Mexico, and from them, and every other source which 
his position in society and his eminent character opened to him, he 
composed various works, none of which, however, except the one 
before us, has been admitted to the honors of the press. The time 
of his death is not given by his editor, but it was probably not later 
than 1780. 

Veytia's history covers the whole period from the first occupation 
of Anahuac to the middle of the fifteenth century, at which point his 
labors were unfortunately terminated by his death. In the early portion 
he has endeavored to trace the migratory movements and historical 
annals of the principal races who entered the country. Every page 
bears testimony to the extent and fidelity of his researches ; and, if we 



feel but moderate confidence in the results, the fault is not imputable 
to him, so much as to the dark and doubtful nature of the subject. As 
he descends to later ages, he is more occupied with the fortunes of the 
Tezcucan than with those of the Aztec dynasty, which have been amply 
discussed by others of his countrymen. The premature close of his 
labors prevented him, probably, from giving that attention to the 
domestic institutions of the people he describes, to which they are 
entitled as the most important subject of inquiry to the historian. The 
deficiency has been supplied by his judicious editor, Orteaga, from 
other sources. In the early part of his work, Veytia has explained 
the chronological system of the Aztecs, but, like most writers preceding 
the accurate Gama, with indifferent success. As a critic, he certainly 
ranks much higher than the annalists who preceded him, and, when his 
own religion is not involved, shows a discriminating judgment. When 
it is, he betrays a full measure of the credulity which still maintains 
its hold on too many even of the well-informed of his countrymen. 
The editor of the work has given a very interesting letter from the 
Abbe Clavigero to Veytia, written when the former was a poor and 
humble exile, and in the tone of one addressing a person of high 
standing and literary eminence. Both were employed on the same 
subject. The writings of the poor abbe, published again and again, 
and translated into various languages, have spread his fame throughout 
Europe; while the name of Veytia, whose works have been locked 
up in their primitive manuscript, is scarcely known beyond the bound- 
aries of Mexico. 

Vol. I. 



The form of government differed in the different 
states of Anahuac. With the Aztecs and Tezcucans it 
was monarchical and nearly absolute. The two nations 
resembled each other so much in their political insti- 
tutions that one of their historians has remarked, in 
too unqualified a manner indeed, that what is told of 
one may be always understood as applying to the 
other. 1 I shall direct my inquiries to the Mexican 
polity, borrowing an illustration occasionally from that 
of the rival kingdom. 

The government was an elective monarchy. Four 
of the principal nobles, who had been chosen by their 
own body in the preceding reign, filled the office of 
electors, to whom were added, with merely an honorary 
rank, however, the two royal allies of Tezcuco and 
Tlacopan. The sovereign was selected from the brothers 
of the deceased prince, or, in default of them, from his 
nephews. Thus the election was always restricted to 
the same family. The candidate preferred must have 
distinguished himself in war, though, as in the case of 
the last Montezuma, he were a member of the priest- 
hood." This singular mode of supplying the throne 

* Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 36. 

2 This was an exception. — In Egypt* also, the king was frequently 



had some advantages. The candidates received an 
education which fitted them for the royal dignity, 
while the age at which they were chosen not only 
secured the nation against the evils of minority, but 
afforded ample means for estimating their qualifications 
for the office. The result, at all events, was favorable ; 
since the throne, as already noticed, was filled by a 
succession of able princes, well qualified to rule over a 
warlike and ambitious people. The scheme of elec- 
tion, however defective, argues a more refined and cal- 
culating policy than was to have been expected from 
a barbarous nation. 3 

The new monarch was installed in his regal dignity 
with much parade of religious ceremony, but not until, 
by a victorious campaign, he had obtained a sufficient 
number of captives to grace his triumphal entry into 
the capital and to furnish victims for the dark and 
bloody rites which stained the Aztec superstition. 
Amidst this pomp of human sacrifice he was crowned. 
The crown, resembling a mitre in its form, and curiously 
ornamented with gold, gems, and feathers, was placed 
on his head by the lord of Tezcuco, the most powerful 
of his royal allies. The title of King, by which the 

taken from the warrior caste, though obliged afterwards to be instructed 
in the mysteries of the priesthood : 6 <5e £k /xaxifiuv anodedeLyfievog ein9i)f 
tyivero tuv lepuv. Plutarch, de Isid. et Osir., sec. 9. 

3 Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 2, cap. 18 ; lib. II, cap. 27. — 
Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. p. 112. — Acosta, Naturall and 
Morall Historie of the East and West Indies, Eng. trans. (London, 
1604). — According to Zurita, an election by the nobles took place only 
in default of heirs of the deceased monarch. (Rapport, p. 15.) The 
minute historical investigation of Clavigero may be permitted to out- 
weigh this general assertion. 


earlier Aztec princes are distinguished by Spanish 
writers, is supplanted by that of Emperor in the later 
reigns, intimating, perhaps, his superiority over the 
confederated monarchies of Tlacopan and Tezcuco.* 

The Aztec princes, especially towards the close of 
the dynasty, lived in a barbaric pomp, truly Oriental. 
Their spacious palaces were provided with halls for the 
different councils who aided the monarch in the transac- 
tion of business. The chief of these was a sort of privy 
council, composed in part, probably, of the four electors 
chosen by the nobles after the accession, whose places, 
when made vacant by death, were immediately supplied 
as before. It was the business of this body, so far as 
can be gathered from the very loose accounts given of 
it, to advise the king, in respect to the government of 
the provinces, the administration of the revenues, and, 
indeed, on all great matters of public interest. 5 

In the royal buildings were accommodations, also, 
for a numerous body-guard of the sovereign, made up 
of the chief nobility. It is not easy to determine with 
precision, in these barbarian governments, the limits of 
the several orders. It is certain there was a distinct 
class of nobles, with large landed possessions, who held 
the most important offices near the person of the prince, 

4 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 6, cap. 9, 10, 14 ; lib. 8, cap. 
31, 34. — See, also, Zurita, Rapport, pp. 20-23. — Ixtlilxochitl stoutly 
claims this supremacy for his own nation. (Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 34.) 
His assertions are at variance with facts stated by himself elsewhere, and 
are not countenanced by any other writer whom I have consulted. 

5 Sahagun, who places the elective power in a much larger body, 
speaks of four senators, who formed a state council. (Hist, de Nueva- 
Espana, lib. 8, cap. 30.) Acosta enlarges the council beyond the 
number of the electors. (Lib. 6, ch. 26.) No two writers agree. 



and engrossed the administration of the provinces 
and cities. 6 Many of these could trace their descent 
from the founders of the Aztec monarchy. According 
to some writers of authority, there were thirty great 
caciques, who had their residence, at least a part of the 
year, in the capital, and who could muster a hundred 
thousand vassals each on their estates. 7 Without rely- 
ing on such wild statements, it is clear, from the testi- 
mony of the Conquerors, that the country was occupied 
by numerous powerful chieftains, who lived like inde- 
pendent princes on their domains. If it be true that 
the kings encouraged, or, indeed, exacted, the residence 
of these nobles in the capital, and required hostages in 
their absence, it is evident that their power must have 
been very formidable. 8 

Their estates appear to have been held by various 
tenures, and to have been subject to different restric- 
tions. Some of them, earned by their own good swords 
or received as the recompense of public services, were 
held without any limitation, except that the possessors 

6 Zurita enumerates four orders of chiefs, all of whom were exempted 
from imposts and enjoyed very considerable privileges. He does not 
discriminate the several ranks with much precision. Rapport, p. 47, 
et seq. 

7 See, in particular, Herrera, Historia general de los Hechos de los 
Castellanos en las Islas y Tierra firme del Mar Oceano (Madrid, 1730), 
dec. 2, lib. 7, cap. 12. 

8 Carta de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, p. no. — 
Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 2, cap. 89; lib. 14, cap. 6. — Clavi- 
gero, Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. p. 121. — Zurita, Rapport, pp. 48, 65. — 
Ixtlilxochitl (Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 34) speaks of thirty great feudal 
chiefs, some of them Tezcucan and Tlacopan, whom he styles " grandees 
of the empire" I He says nothing of the great tail of 100,000 vassals 
to each, mentioned by Torquemada and Herrera. 



could not dispose of them to a plebeian. 9 Others were 
entailed on the eldest male issue, and, in default of 
such, reverted to the crown. Most of them seem to 
have been burdened with the obligation of military 
service. The principal chiefs of Tezcuco, according 
to its chronicler, were expressly obliged to support 
their prince with their armed vassals, to attend his 
court, and aid him in the council. Some, instead of 
these services, were to provide for the repairs of his 
buildings, and to keep the royal demesnes in order, 
with an annual offering, by way of homage, of fruits 
and flowers. It was usual, if we are to believe historians, 
for a new king, on his accession, to confirm the investi- 
ture of estates derived from the crown. 10 

It cannot be denied that we recognize, in all this, 
several features of the feudal system, which, no doubt, 
lose nothing of their effect under the hands of the 
Spanish writers, who are fond of tracing analogies to 
European institutions. But such analogies lead some- 
times to very erroneous conclusions. The obligation 
of military service, for instance, the most essential 
principle of a fief, seems to be naturally demanded by 

9 Macehual, — a word equivalent to the French word roturier. Nor 
could fiefs originally be held by plebeians in France. See Hallam's 
Middle Ages (London, 1819), vol. ii. p. 207. 

10 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., ubi supra. — Zurita, Rapport, ubi 
supra. — Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. pp. 122-124. — Torque- 
mada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 14, cap. 7. — Gomara, Cronica de Nueva- 
Espana, cap. 199, ap. Barcia, torn. ii. — Boturini (Idea, p. 165) carries 
back the origin of fiefs in Anahuac to the twelfth century. Carli says, 
" Le systeme politique y etoit feodal." In the next page he tells us, 
" Personal merit alone made the distinction of the nobility" 1 (Lettres 
Americaines, trad. Fr. (Paris, 1788), torn. i. let. 11.) Carli was a 
writer of a lively imagination. 


every government from its subjects. As to minor 
points of resemblance, they fall far short of that har- 
monious system of reciprocal service and protection 
which embraced, in nice gradation, every order of a 
feudal monarchy. The kingdoms of Anahuac were in 
their nature despotic, attended, indeed, with many miti- 
gating circumstances unknown to the despotisms of the 
East ; but it is chimerical to look for much in common 
— beyond a few accidental forms and ceremonies — 
with those aristocratic institutions of the Middle Ages 
which made the court of every petty baron the precise 
image in miniature of that of his sovereign. 

The legislative power, both in Mexico and Tezcuco, 
resided wholly with the monarch. This feature of 
despotism, however, was in some measure counteracted 
by the constitution of the judicial tribunals, — of more 
importance, among a rude people, than the legislative, 
since it is easier to make good laws for such a com- 
munity than to enforce them, and the best laws, badly 
administered, are but a mockery. Over each of the 
principal cities, with its dependent territories, was 
placed a supreme judge, appointed by the crown, with 
original and final jurisdiction in both civil and criminal 
cases. There was no appeal from his sentence to any 
other tribunal, nor even to the king. He held his 
office during life ; and any one who usurped his ensigns 
was punished with death." 

XI This magistrate, who was called cikuacoatl,* was also to audit the 

* [This word, a compound of cikuatl, woman, and coatl, serpent, 
was the name of a divinity, the mythical mother of the human species. 
Its typical application may have had reference to justice, or law, as the 
source of social order. — Ed.] 


Below this magistrate was a court, established in each 
province, and consisting of three members. It held 
concurrent jurisdiction with the supreme judge in civil 
suits, but in criminal an appeal lay to his tribunal. 
Besides these courts, there was a body of inferior 
magistrates, distributed through the country, chosen by 
the people themselves in their several districts. Their 
authority was limited to smaller causes, while the more 
important were carried up to the higher courts. There 
was still another class of subordinate officers, appointed 
also by the people, each of whom was to watch over the 
conduct of a certain number of families and report any 
disorder or breach of the laws to the higher authorities." 

In Tezcuco the judicial arrangements were of a 
more refined character ; 13 and a gradation of tribunals 
finally terminated in a general meeting or parliament, 

accounts of the collectors of the taxes in his district. (Clavigero, Stor. 
del Messico, torn. ii. p. 127. — Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 11, cap. 
25.) The Mendoza Collection contains a painting of the courts of 
justice under Montezuma, who introduced great changes in them. 
(Antiq. of Mexico, vol. i., Plate 70.) According to the interpreter, 
an appeal lay from them, in certain cases, to the king's council. Ibid., 
vol. vi. p. 79. 

12 Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. pp. 127, 128. — Torquemada, 
Monarch. Ind., ubi supra. — In this arrangement of the more humble 
magistrates we are reminded of the Anglo-Saxon hundreds and tith- 
ings, especially the latter, the members of which were to watch over 
the conduct of the families in their districts and bring the offenders to 
justice. The hard penalty of mutual responsibility was not known to 
the Mexicans. 

J 3 Zurita, so temperate, usually, in his language, remarks that, in the 
capital, " Tribunals were instituted which might compare in their 
organization with the royal audiences of Castile." (Rapport, p. 93.) 
His observations are chiefly drawn from the Tezcucan courts, which 
in their forms of procedure, he says, were like the Aztec. (Loc. cit.) 


consisting of all the judges, great and petty, through- 
out the kingdom, held every eighty days in the capital, 
over which the king presided in person. This body 
determined all suits which, from their importance or 
difficulty, had been reserved for its consideration by 
the lower tribunals. It served, moreover, as a council 
of state, to assist the monarch in the transaction of 
public business. 14 

Such are the vague and imperfect notices that can be 
gleaned, respecting the Aztec tribunals, from the hiero- 
glyphical paintings still preserved, and from the most 
accredited Spanish writers. These, being usually eccle- 
siastics, have taken much less interest in this subject 
than in matters connected with religion. They find 
some apology, certainly, in the early destruction of 
most of the Indian paintings, from which their infor- 
mation was, in part, to be gathered. 

On the whole, however, it must be inferred that 
the Aztecs were sufficiently civilized to evince a solici- 
tude for the rights both of property and of persons. 
The law, authorizing an appeal to the highest judicature 
in criminal matters only, shows an attention to per- 
sonal security, rendered the more obligatory by the 
extreme severity of their penal code, which would 
naturally have made them more cautious of a wrong 

J * Boturini, Idea, p. 87. — Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. n, cap. 
26. — Zurita compares this body to the Castilian c6rtes. It would seem, 
however, according to him, to have consisted only of twelve principal 
judges, besides the king. His meaning is somewhat doubtful. (Rap- 
port, pp. 94, 101, 106.) M. de Humboldt, in his account of the Aztec 
courts, has confounded them with the Tezcucan. Comp. Vues des 
Cordilleres et Monumens des Peuples indigenes de I'Amerique (Paris, 
1810), p. 55, and Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. pp. 128, 129. 



conviction. The existence of a number of co-ordinate 
tribunals, without a central one of supreme authority 
to control the whole, must have given rise to very dis- 
cordant interpretations of the law in different districts. 
But this is an evil which they shared in common with 
most of the nations of Europe. 

The provision for making the superior judges wholly 
independent of the crown was worthy of an enlight- 
ened people. It presented the strongest barrier that a 
mere constitution could afford against tyranny. It is 
not, indeed, to be supposed that, in a government 
otherwise so despotic, means could not be found for 
influencing the magistrate. But it was a great step to 
fence round his authority with the sanction of the law ; 
and no one of the Aztec monarchs, so far as I know, is 
accused of an attempt to violate it. 

To receive presents or a bribe, to be guilty of collu- 
sion in any way with a suitor, was punished, in a judge, 
with death. Who, or what tribunal, decided as to his 
guilt, does not appear. In Tezcuco this was done by 
the rest of the court. But the king presided over that 
body. The Tezcucan prince Nezahualpilli, who rarely 
tempered justice with mercy, put one judge to death 
for taking a bribe, and another for determining suits 
in his own house, — a capital offence, also, by law. 15 

The judges of the higher tribunals were maintained 
from the produce of a part of the crown lands, reserved 
for this purpose. They, as well as the supreme judge, 

*5 "If this should be done now, what an excellent thing it would 
be!" exclaims Sahagun's Mexican editor. Hist, de Nueva-Espafia, 
torn. ii. p. 304, nota. — Zurita, Rapport, p. 102. — Torquemada, Monarch. 
Ind., ubi supra. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 67. 


held their offices for life. The proceedings in the 
courts were conducted with decency and order. The 
judges wore an appropriate dress, and attended to 
business both parts of the day, dining always, for the 
sake of despatch, in an apartment of the same building 
where they held their session ; a method of proceeding 
much commended by the Spanish chroniclers, to whom 
despatch was not very familiar in their own tribunals. 
Officers attended to preserve order, and others sum- 
moned the parties and produced them in court. No 
counsel was employed ; the parties stated their own 
case and supported it by their witnesses. The oath of 
the accused was also admitted in evidence. The state- 
ment of the case, the testimony, and the proceedings 
of the trial were all set forth by a clerk, in hieroglyph- 
ical paintings, and handed over to the court. The 
paintings were executed with so much accuracy that in 
all suits respecting real property they were allowed to 
be produced as good authority in the Spanish tribunals, 
very long after the Conquest ; and a chair for their 
study and interpretation was established at Mexico in 
1553, which has long since shared the fate of most other 
provisions for learning in that unfortunate country. 16 

A capital sentence was indicated by a line traced 
with an arrow across the portrait of the accused. In 
Tezcuco, where the king presided in the court, this, 
according to the national chronicler, was done with 

16 Zurita, Rapport, pp. 95, ioo, 103. — Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva- 
Espana, loc. cit. — Humboldt, Vues des Cordilleres, pp. 55, 56. — Tor- 
quemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 11, cap. 25. — Clavigero says the accused 
might free himself by oath: " il reo poteva purgarsi col giuramento." 
(Stor. del Messico, torn, ii, p. 129.) What rogue, then, could ever 
have been convicted? 


extraordinary parade. His description, which is of 
rather a poetical cast, I give in his own words. "In 
the royal palace of Tezcuco was a court-yard, on the 
opposite sides of which were two halls of justice. In 
the principal one, called the 'tribunal of God,' was a 
throne of pure gold, inlaid with turquoises and other 
precious stones. On a stool in front was placed a 
human skull, crowned with an immense emerald of a 
pyramidal form, and surmounted by an aigrette of bril- 
liant plumes and precious stones. The skull was laid 
on a heap of military weapons, shields, quivers, bows, 
and arrows. The walls were hung with tapestry, made 
of the hair of different wild animals, of rich and va- 
rious colors, festooned by gold rings and embroidered 
with figures of birds and flowers. Above the throne 
was a canopy of variegated plumage, from the centre 
of which shot forth resplendent rays of gold and jewels. 
The other tribunal, called 'the King's,' was also sur- 
mounted by a gorgeous canopy of feathers, on which 
were emblazoned the royal arms. Here the sovereign 
gave public audience and communicated his despatches. 
But when he decided important causes, or confirmed a 
capital sentence, he passed to the ' tribunal of God,' 
attended .by the fourteen great lords of the realm, 
marshalled according to their rank. Then, putting 
on his mitred crown, incrusted with precious stones, 
and holding a golden arrow, by way of sceptre, in his 
left hand, he laid his right upon the skull, and pro- 
nounced judgment." 17 All this looks rather fine for 
a court of justice, it must be owned. But it is certain 

*7 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 36. — These various objects 
had a symbolical meaning, according to Boturini, Idea, p. 84. 



that the Tezcucans, as we shall see hereafter, possessed 
both the materials and the skill requisite to work them 
up in this manner. Had fhey been a little further 
advanced in refinement, one might well doubt their 
having the bad taste to do so. 

The laws of the Aztecs were registered, and exhib- 
ited to the people, in their hieroglyphical paintings. 
Much the larger part of them, as in every nation 
imperfectly civilized, relates rather to the security of 
persons than of property. The great crimes against 
society were all made capital. Even the murder of a 
slave was punished with death. Adulterers, as among 
the Jews, were stoned to death. Thieving, according 
to the degree of the offence, was punished by slavery 
or death. Yet the Mexicans could have been under 
no great apprehension of this crime, since the entrances 
to their dwellings were not secured by bolts or fasten- 
ings of any kind. It was a capital offence to remove 
the boundaries of another's lands; to alter the estab- 
lished measures ; and for a guardian not to be able to 
give a good account of his ward's property. These 
regulations evince a regard for equity in dealings, and 
for private rights, which argues a considerable progress 
in civilization. Prodigals, who squandered their pat- 
rimony, were punished in like manner ; a severe sen- 
tence, since the crime brought its adequate punishment 
along with it. Intemperance, which was the burden, 
moreover, of their religious homilies, was visited with 
the severest penalties ; as if they had foreseen in it the 
consuming canker of their own as well as of the other 
Indian races in later times. It was punished in the 
young with death, and in older persons with loss of 
Vol. I. — 4 


rank and confiscation of property. Yet a decent con- 
viviality was not meant to be proscribed at their fes- 
tivals, and they possessed the means of indulging it, in 
a mild fermented liquor, called pulque, which is still 
popular, not only with the Indian, but the European 
population of the country.* 8 

The rites of marriage were celebrated with as much 
formality as in any Christian country ; and the insti- 
tution was held in such reverence that a tribunal was 
instituted for the sole purpose of determining questions 
relating to it. Divorces could not be obtained until 
authorized by a sentence of this court, after a patient 
hearing of the parties. 

But the most remarkable part of the Aztec code was 
that relating to slavery. There were several descrip- 
tions of slaves : prisoners taken in war, who were almost 
always reserved for the dreadful doom of sacrifice ; 
criminals, public debtors, persons who, from extreme 
poverty, voluntarily resigned their freedom, and chil- 
dren who were sold by their own parents. In the last 
instance, usually occasioned also by poverty, it was 

18 Paintings of the Mendoza Collection, PL 72, and Interpretation, 
ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. vi. p. 87. — Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., 
lib. 12, cap. 7. — Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. pp. 130-134. — 
Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. — They could scarcely have been an 
intemperate people, with these heavy penalties hanging over them. 
Indeed, Zurita bears testimony that those Spaniards who thought 
they were greatly erred. (Rapport, p. 112.) M. Ternaux's translation 
of a passage of the Anonymous Conqueror, " aucun peuple n'est 
aussi sobre " (Recueil de Pieces relatives a la Conquete du Mexique, 
ap. Voyages, etc. (Paris, 1838), p. 54), may give a more favorable 
impression, however, than that intended by his original, whose remark 
is confined to abstemiousness in eating. See the Relatione, ap. Ra- 
musio, Raccolta delle Navigationi et Viaggi (Venetia, 1554-1565). 



common for the parents, with the master's consent, to 
substitute others of their children successively, as they 
grew up ; thus distributing the burden as equally as 
possible among the different members of the family. 
The willingness of freemen to incur the penalties of 
this condition is explained by the mild form in which 
it existed. The contract of sale was executed in the 
presence of at least four witnesses. The services to be 
exacted were limited with great precision. The slave 
was allowed to have his own family, to hold property, 
and even other slaves. His children were free. No 
one could be born to slavery in Mexico ; ,9 an honorable 
distinction, not known, I believe, in any civilized com- 
munity where slavery has been sanctioned. 20 Slaves were 
not sold by their masters, unless when these were driven 
to it by poverty. They were often liberated by them at 
their death, and sometimes, as there was no natural re- 
pugnance founded on difference of blood and race, were 
married to them. Yet a refractory or vicious slave might 
be led into the market, with a collar round his neck, 
which intimated his bad character, and there be publicly 
sold, and, on a second sale, reserved for sacrifice. 21 

10 In ancient Egypt the child of a slave was born free, if the father 
were free. (Diodorus, Bibl. Hist., lib. i, sec. 80.) This, though more 
liberal than the code of most countries, fell short of the Mexican. 

30 In Egypt the same penalty was attached to the murder of a slave 
as to that of a freeman. (Ibid., lib. 1, sec. 77.) Robertson speaks of 
a class of slaves held so cheap in the eye of the Mexican law that one 
might kill them with impunity. (History of America (ed. London, 
1776), vol. iii. p. 164.) This, however, was not in Mexico, but in 
Nicaragua (see his own authority, Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 3, lib. 
4, cap. 2), a distant country, not incorporated in the Mexican empire, 
and with laws and institutions very different from those of the latter. 

31 Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 12, cap. 15 ; lib. 14, cap. 16, 17. 



Such are some of the most striking features of the 
Aztec code, to which the Tezcucan bore great resem- 
blance." With some exceptions, it is stamped with the 
severity, the ferocity indeed, of a rude people, hard- 
ened by familiarity with scenes of blood, and relying 
on physical instead of moral means for the correction 
of evil. 23 Still, it evinces a profound respect for the great 
principles of morality, and as clear a perception of these 
principles as is to be found in the most cultivated nations. 

The royal revenues were derived from various sources. 
The crown lands, which appear to have been extensive, 
made their returns in kind. The places in the neigh- 
borhood of the capital were bound to supply workmen 
and materials for building the king's palaces and 
keeping them in repair. They were also to furnish 
fuel, provisions, and whatever was necessary for his 
ordinary domestic expenditure, which was certainly on 
no stinted scale. 24 The principal cities, which had 

— Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 8, cap. 14. — Clavigero, Stor. 
del Messico, torn. ii. pp. 134-136. 

22 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 38, and Relaciones, MS. — 
The Tezcucan code, indeed, as digested under the great Nezahual- 
coyotl, formed the basis of the Mexican, in the latter days of the 
empire. Zurita, Rapport, p. 95. 

=3 In this, at least, they did not resemble the Romans ; of whom their 
countryman could boast, " Gloriari licet, nulli gentium mitiores pla- 
cuisse pcenas." Livy, Hist., lib. 1, cap. 28. 

2 4 The Tezcucan revenues were, in like manner, paid in the produce 
of the country. The various branches of the royal expenditure were 
defrayed by specified towns and districts ; and the whole arrangements 
here, and in Mexico, bore a remarkable resemblance to the financial 
regulations of the Persian empire, as reported by the Greek writers 
(see Herodotus, Clio, sec. 192) ; with this difference, however, that the 
towns of Persia proper were not burdened with tributes, like the con- 
quered cities. Idem, Thalia, sec. 97. 


numerous villages and a large territory dependent on 
them, were distributed into districts, with each a share 
of the lands allotted to it, for its support. The inhab- 
itants paid a stipulated part of the produce to the crown. 
The vassals of the great chiefs, also, paid a portion of 
their earnings into the public treasury ; an arrangement 
not at all in the spirit of the feudal institutions. 2S 

In addition to this tax on all the agricultural produce 
of the kingdom, there was another on its manufactures. 
The nature and the variety of the tributes will be best 
shown by an enumeration of some of the principal 
articles. These were cotton dresses, and mantles of 
feather-work exquisitely made; ornamented armor; 
vases and plates of gold ; gold dust, bands and brace- 
lets ; crystal, gilt, and varnished jars and goblets ; 
bells, arms, and utensils of copper ; reams of paper ; 
grain, fruits, copal, amber, cochineal, cacao, wild 
animals and birds, timber, lime, mats, etc. 26 In this 

2 5 Lorenzana, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, p. 172. — Torquemada, Mo- 
narch. Ind., lib. 2, cap. 89; lib. 14, cap. 7. — Boturini, Idea, p. 166.— 
Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. — Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 
7, cap. 13. — The people of the provinces were distributed into calpulli, 
or tribes, who held the lands of the neighborhood in common. Offi- 
cers of their own appointment parcelled out these lands among the 
several families of the calpulli ; and on the extinction or removal of a 
family its lands reverted to the common stock, to be again distributed. 
The individual proprietor had no power to alienate them. The laws 
regulating these matters were very precise, and had existed ever since 
the occupation of the country by the Aztecs. Zurita, Rapport, pp. 51-62. 

26 The following items of the tribute furnished by different cities will 
give a more precise idea of its nature : — 20 chests of ground chocolate ; 
40 pieces of armor, of a particular device ; 2400 loads of large mantles, 
of twisted cloth ; 800 loads of small mantles, of rich wearing-apparel ; 
5 pieces of armor, of rich feathers ; 60 pieces of armor, of common 
feathers ; a chest of beans ; a chest of c Man ; a chest of maize ; 8000 



curious medley of the most homely commodities and 
the elegant superfluities of luxury, it is singular that no 
mention should be made of silver, the great staple of 
the country in later times, and the use of which was 
certainly known to the Aztecs. 27 

Garrisons were established in the larger cities, — ■ 
probably those at a distance and recently conquered, — 
to keep down revolt, and to enforce the payment of the 
tribute. 28 Tax-gatherers were also distributed through- 
reams of paper ; likewise 2000 loaves of very white salt, refined in the 
shape of a mould, for the consumption only of the lords of Mexico ; 
8000 lumps of unrefined copal ; 400 small baskets of white refined 
copal ; 100 copper axes ; 80 loads of red chocolate ; 800 xicaras, out 
of which they drank chocolate ; a little vessel of small turquoise stones ; 
4 chests of timber, full of maize ; 4000 loads of lime ; tiles of gold, of 
the size of an oyster, and as thick as the finger ; 40 bags of cochineal ; 
20 bags of gold dust, of the finest quality ; a diadem of gold, of a 
specified pattern ; 20 lip-jewels of clear amber, ornamented with gold ; 
200 loads of chocolate ; 100 pots or jars of liquid-amber ; 8000 hand- 
fuls of rich scarlet feathers; 40 tiger-skins; 1600 bundles of cotton, 
etc. etc-. Col. de Mendoza, part 2, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vols, i., vi. 

=7 Mapa de Tributos, ap. Lorenzana, Hist, de Nueva-Espana. — 
Tribute-roll, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. i., and Interpretation, vol. vi., 
pp. 17-44. — The Mendoza Collection, in the Bodleian Library at 
Oxford, contains a roll of the cities of the Mexican empire, with the 
specific tributes exacted from them. It is a copy made after the Con- 
quest, with a pen, on European paper. (See Foreign Quarterly Re- 
view, No. XVII. Art. 4.) An original painting of the same roll was in 
Boturini's museum. Lorenzana has given us engravings of it, in which 
the outlines of the Oxford copy are filled up, though somewhat rudely. 
Clavigero considers the explanations in Lorenzana's edition very in- 
accurate (Stor. del Messico, torn. i. p» 25), a judgment confirmed by 
Aglio, who has transcribed the entire collection of the Mendoza papers, 
in the first volume of the Antiquities of Mexico. It would have much 
facilitated reference to his plates if they had been numbered ; — a 
strange omission ! 

= 8 The caciques, who submitted to the allied arms, were usually con- 



out the kingdom, who were recognized by their official 
badges, and dreaded from the merciless rigor of their 
exactions. By a stern law, every defaulter was liable 
to be taken and sold as a slave. In the capital were 
spacious granaries and warehouses for the reception of 
the tributes. A receiver-general was quartered in the 
palace, who rendered in an exact account of the various 
contributions, and watched over the conduct of the in- 
ferior agents, in whom the least malversation was sum- 
marily punished. This functionary was furnished with 
a map of the whole empire, with a minute specification 
of the imposts assessed on every part of it. These 
imposts, moderate under the reigns of the early princes, 
became so burdensome under those at the close of 
the dynasty, being rendered still more oppressive by 
the manner of collection, that they bred disaffection 
throughout the land, and prepared the way for its con- 
quest by the Spaniards. 29 

Communication was maintained with the remotest 
parts of the country by means of couriers. Post- 
houses were established on the great roads, about two 
leagues distant from each other. The courier, bearing 
his despatches in the form of a hieroglyphical painting, 
ran with them to the first station, where they were 
taken by another messenger and carried forward to the 

firmed in their authority, and the conquered places allowed to retain 
their laws and usages. (Zurita, Rapport, p. 67.) The conquests were 
not always partitioned, but sometimes, singularly enough, were held in 
common by the three powers. Ibid., p. II, 

"9 Col. of Mendoza, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. vi. p. 17. — Carta de 
Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, Hist, de Nueva-Espafia, p. no. — Torquemada, 
Monarch. Ind., lib. 14, cap. 6, 8. — Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 
7, cap. 13. — Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espafia, lib. 8, cap. 18, 19. 


next, and so on till they reached the capital. These 
couriers, trained from childhood, travelled with in- 
credible swiftness, — not four or five leagues an hour, 
as an old chronicler would make us believe, but with 
such speed that despatches were carried from one to 
two hundred miles a day. 30 Fresh fish was frequently 
served at Montezuma's table in twenty-four hours from 
the time it had been taken in the Gulf of Mexico, two 
hundred miles from the capital. In this way intelli- 
gence of the movements of the royal armies was rapidly 
brought to court ; and the dress of the courier, denoting 
by its color the nature of his tidings, spread joy or 
consternation in the towns through which he passed. 31 

30 The Hon. C. A. Murray, whose imperturbable good humor under 
real troubles forms a contrast, rather striking, to the sensitiveness of 
some of his predecessors to imaginary ones, tell us, among other mar- 
vels, that an Indian of his party travelled a hundred miles in four-and- 
twenty hours. (Travels in North America (New York, 1839), vol. i. 
p. 193.) The Greek who, according to Plutarch, brought the news of 
victory to Plataea, a hundred and twenty-five miles, in a day, was a 
better traveller still. Some interesting facts on the pedestrian capa- 
bilities of man in the savage state are collected by Buffon, who con- 
cludes, truly enough, " L'homme civilise ne connait pas ses forces." 
(Histoire naturelle : De la Jeunesse.) 

3 1 Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 14, cap. 1. — The same wants 
led to the same expedients in ancient Rome, and still more ancient 
Persia. " Nothing in the world is borne so swiftly," says Herodotus, 
" as messages by the Persian couriers ;" which his commentator Valcke- 
naer prudently qualifies by the exception of the carrier-pigeon. 
(Herodotus, Hist., Urania, sec. 98, nee non Adnot. ed. Schweig- 
hauser.) Couriers are noticed, in the thirteenth century, in China, by 
Marco Polo. Their stations were only three miles apart, and they 
accomplished five days' journey in one. (Viaggi di Marco Polo, lib. 
2, cap. 20, ap. Ramusio, torn, ii.) A similar arrangement for posts 
subsists there at the present day, and excites the admiration of a 
modern traveller. (Anderson, British Embassy to China (London, 



But the great aim of the Aztec institutions, to which 
private discipline and public honors were alike directed, 
was the profession of arms. In Mexico, as in Egypt, 
the soldier shared with the priest the highest consider- 
ation. The king, as we have seen, must be an expe- 
rienced warrior. The tutelary deity of the Aztecs was 
the god of war. A great object of their military ex- 
peditions was to gather hecatombs of captives for his 
altars. The soldier who fell in battle was transported 
at once to the region of ineffable bliss in the bright 
mansions of the Sun. 32 Every war, therefore, became 
a crusade ; and the warrior, animated by a religious 
enthusiasm like that of the early Saracen or the Christian 
crusader, was not only raised to a contempt of danger, 
but courted it, for the imperishable crown of martyrdom. 
Thus we find the same impulse acting in the most oppo- 
site quarters of the globe, and the Asiatic, the European, 
and the American, each earnestly invoking the holy 
name of religion in the perpetration of human butchery. 

The question of war was discussed in a council of 
the king and his chief nobles. Ambassadors were sent, 
previously to its declaration, to require the hostile state 
to receive the Mexican gods and to pay the customary 
tribute. The persons of ambassadors were held sacred 
throughout Anahuac. They were lodged and enter- 
tained in the great towns at the public charge, and were 
everywhere received with courtesy, so long as they did 
not deviate from the high-roads on their route. When 
they did, they forfeited their privileges. If the em- 

1796), p. 282.) In all these cases, the posts were for the use of govern- 
ment only. 

3 Z Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espafia, lib. 3, Apend., cap. 3. 


bassy proved unsuccessful, a defiance, or open declara- 
tion of war, was sent; quotas were drawn from the 
conquered provinces, which were always subjected to 
military service, as well as the payment of taxes ; and 
the royal army, usually with the monarch at its head, 
began its march. 33 

The Aztec princes made use of the incentives em- 
ployed by European monarchs to excite the ambition 
of their followers. They established various military 
orders, each having its privileges and peculiar insignia. 
There seems, also, to have existed a sort of knighthood, 
of inferior degree. It was the cheapest reward of 
martial prowess, and whoever had not reached it was 
excluded from using ornaments on his arms or his 
person, and obliged to wear a coarse white stuff, made 
from the threads of the aloe, called nequen. Even the 
members of the royal family were not excepted from 
this law, which reminds one of the occasional practice 
of Christian knights, to wear plain armor, or shields 
without device, till they had achieved some doughty 
feat of chivalry. Although the military orders were 
thrown open to all, it is probable that they were chiefly 
filled with persons of rank, who, by their previous 
training and connections, were able to come into the 
field under peculiar advantages. 34 

33 Zurita, Rapport, pp. 68, 120. — Col. of Mendoza, ap. Antiq. of 
Mexico, vol. i. PL 67 ; vol. vi. p. 74. — Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., 
lib. 14, cap. 1. — The reader will find a remarkable resemblance to 
these military usages in those of the early Romans. Comp. Liv., 
Hist., lib. 1, cap. 32 ; lib. 4, cap. 30, et alibi. 

34 Ibid., lib. 14, cap. 4, 5. — Acosta, lib. 6, ch. 26. — Col. of Mendoza, 
ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. i. PL 65 ; vol. vi. p. 72. — Camargo, Hist, 
de Tlascala, MS. 


The dress of the higher warriors was picturesque and 
often magnificent. Their bodies were covered with a 
close vest of quilted cotton, so thick as to be impene- 
trable to the light missiles of Indian warfare. This 
garment was so light and serviceable that it was adopted 
by the Spaniards. The wealthier chiefs sometimes 
wore, instead of this cotton mail, a cuirass made of 
thin plates of gold or silver. Over it was thrown a 
surcoat of the gorgeous feather-work in which they 
excelled. 33 Their helmets were sometimes of wood, 
fashioned like the heads of wild animals, and some- 
times of silver, on the top of which waved a panache 
of variegated plumes, sprinkled with precious stones 
and ornaments of gold. They wore also collars, brace- 
lets, and ear-rings of the same rich materials. 36 

Their armies were divided into bodies of eight thou- 
sand men ; and these, again, into companies of three 
or four hundred, each with its own commander. The 
national standard, which has been compared to the 
ancient Roman, displayed, in its embroidery of gold 

35 " Their mail, if mail it may be called, was woven 
Of vegetable down, like finest flax, 
Bleached to the whiteness of new-fallen snow. 

Others, of higher office, were arrayed 
In feathery breastplates, of more gorgeous hue 
Than the gay plumage of the mountain-cock, 
Than the pheasant's glittering pride. But what were these, 
Or what the thin gold hauberk, when opposed 
To arms like ours in battle?" 

Madoc, Part i, canto 7. 

Beautiful painting ! One may doubt, however, the propriety of the 
Welshman's vaunt, before the use of fire-arms. 

36 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espafia, lib. 2, cap. 27; lib. 8, cap. 12. 
— Relatione d'un gentil' huomo, ap. Ramusio, torn. iii. p. 305. — 
Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., ubi supra. 


and feather-work, the armorial ensigns of the state. 
These were significant of its name, which, as the names 
of both persons and places were borrowed from some 
material object, was easily expressed by hieroglyphical 
symbols. The companies and the great chiefs had also 
their appropriate banners and devices, and the gaudy 
hues of their many-colored plumes gave a dazzling 
splendor to the spectacle. 

Their tactics were such as belong to a nation with 
whom war, though a trade, is not elevated to the rank 
of a science. They advanced singing, and shouting 
their war-cries, briskly charging the enemy, as rapidly 
retreating, and making use of ambuscades, sudden 
surprises, and the light skirmish of guerilla warfare. 
Yet their discipline was such as to draw forth the 
encomiums of the Spanish conquerors. "A beautiful 
sight it was," says one of them, "to see them set out 
on their march, all moving forward so gayly, and in so 
admirable order!" 37 In battle they did not seek to 
kill their enemies, so much as to take them prisoners ; 
and they never scalped, like other North American 
tribes. The valor of a warrior was estimated by the 
number of his prisoners; and no ransom was large 
enough to save the devoted captive. 38 

37 Relatione d'un gentil' huomo, ubi supra. 

38 Col. of Mendoza, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. i. PI. 65, 66 ; vol. vi. 
p. 73. — Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 8, cap. 12. — Toribio, 
Hist, de los Indios, MS., Parte I. cap. 7. — Torquemada, Monarch. 
Ind., lib. 14, cap. 3. — Relatione d'un gentil' huomo, ap. Ramusio, 
loc. cit. — Scalping may claim high authority, or, at least, antiquity. 
The Father of History gives an account of it among the Scythians, 
showing that they performed the operation, and wore the hideous 
trophy, in the same manner as our North American Indians. (Hero- 
dot., Hist., Melpomene, sec. 64.) Traces of the same savage custom 



Their military code bore the same stern features as 
their other laws. Disobedience of orders was pun- 
ished with death. It was death, also, for a soldier to 
leave his colors, to attack the enemy before the signal 
was given, or to plunder another's booty or prisoners. 
One of the last Tezcucan princes, in the spirit of an 
ancient Roman, put two sons to death — after having 
cured their wounds — for violating the last-mentioned 
law. 39 

I must not omit to notice here an institution the 
introduction of which in the Old World is ranked 
among the beneficent fruits of Christianity. Hospitals 
were established in the principal cities, for the cure 
of the sick and the permanent refuge of the disabled 
soldier; and surgeons were placed over them, "who 
were so far better than those in Europe," says an old 
chronicler, "that they did not protract the cure in 
order to increase the pay." 40 

Such is the brief outline of the civil and military 
polity of the ancient Mexicans ; less perfect than could 
be desired in regard to the former, from the imper- 
fection of the sources whence it is drawn. Whoever 
has had occasion to explore the early history of modern 
Europe has found how vague and unsatisfactory is the 
political information which can be gleaned from the 
gossip of monkish annalists. How much is the diffi- 
culty increased in the present instance, where this 

are also found in the laws of the Visigoths, among the Franks, and 
even the Anglo-Saxons. See Guizot, Cours d'Histoire raoderne 
(Paris, 1829), torn. i. p. 283. 

39 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 67. 

*> Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 12, cap. 6; lib. 14, cap. 3. — 
Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 36. 
Vol. I.— c 5 



information, first recorded in the dubious language of 
hieroglyphics, was interpreted in another language, 
with which the Spanish chroniclers were imperfectly 
acquainted, while it related to institutions of which 
their past experience enabled them to form no ade- 
quate conception ! Amidst such uncertain lights, it is 
in vain to expect nice accuracy of detail. All that 
can be done is to attempt an outline of the more 
prominent features, that a correct impression, so far as 
it goes, may be produced on the mind of the reader. 

Enough has been said, however, to show that the 
Aztec and Tezcucan races were advanced in civiliza- 
tion very far beyond the wandering tribes of North 
America. 41 The degree of civilization which they had 

4* Zurita is indignant at the epithet of barbarians bestowed on the 
Aztecs ; an epithet, he says, " which could come from no one who 
had personal knowledge of the capacity of the people, or their insti- 
tutions, and which in some respects is quite as well merited by the 
European nations." (Rapport, p. 200, et seq.) This is strong lan- 
guage. Yet no one had better means of knowing than this eminent 
jurist, who for nineteen years held a post in the royal audiences of 
New Spain. During his long residence in the country he had ample 
opportunity of acquainting himself with its usages, both through his 
own personal observation and intercourse with the natives, and through 
the first missionaries who came over after the Conquest. On his 
return to Spain, probably about 1560, he occupied himself with an 
answer to queries which had been propounded by the government, on 
the character of the Aztec laws and institutions, and on that of the 
modifications introduced by the Spaniards. Much of his treatise is 
taken up with the latter subject. In what relates to the former he 
is more brief than could be wished, from the difficulty, perhaps, of 
obtaining full and satisfactory information as to the details. As far as 
he goes, however, he manifests a sound and discriminating judgment. 
He is very rarely betrayed into the extravagance of expression so 
visible in the writers of the time ; and this temperance, combined with 
his uncommon sources of information, makes his work one of highest 



reached, as inferred by their political institutions, may 
be considered, perhaps, not much short of that enjoyed 
by our Saxon ancestors under Alfred. In respect to 
the nature of it, they may be better compared with the 
Egyptians ; and the examination of their social rela- 
tions and culture may suggest still stronger points of 
resemblance to that ancient people. 

Those familiar with the modern Mexicans will find 
it difficult to conceive that the nation should ever have 
been capable of devising the enlightened polity which 
we have been considering. But they should remember 
that in the Mexicans of our day they see only a con- 
quered race ; as different from their ancestors as are 
the modern Egyptians from those who built, — I will 
not say, the tasteless pyramids, — but the temples and 
palaces whose magnificent wrecks strew the borders of 
the Nile, at Luxor and Karnac. The difference is not 
so great as between the ancient Greek, and his degen- 
erate descendant, lounging among the masterpieces of 
art which he has scarcely taste enough to admire, — 
speaking the language of those still more imperishable 
monuments of literature which he has hardly capacity 
to comprehend. Yet he breathes the same atmosphere, 
is warmed by the same sun, nourished by the same 
scenes, as those who fell at Marathon and won the 
trophies of Olympic Pisa. The same blood flows in 
his veins that flowed in theirs. But ages of tyranny 
have passed over him ; he belongs to a conquered race. 

authority on the limited topics within its range. The original manu- 
script was consulted by Clavigero, and, indeed, has been used by other 
writers. The work is now accessible to all, as one of the series of 
translations from the pen of the indefatigable Ternaux. 



The American Indian has something peculiarly sen- 
sitive in his nature. He shrinks instinctively from the 
rude touch of a foreign hand. Even when this foreign 
influence comes in the form of civilization, he seems 
to sink and pine away beneath it. It has been so with 
the Mexicans. Under the Spanish domination, their 
numbers have silently melted away. Their energies are 
broken. They no longer tread their mountain plains 
with the conscious independence of their ancestors. 
In their faltering step and meek and melancholy aspect 
we read the sad characters of the conquered race. The 
cause of humanity, indeed, has gained. They live * 
under a better system of laws, a more assured tran- 
quillity, a purer faith. But all does not avail. Their 
civilization was of the hardy character which belongs 
to the wilderness. The fierce virtues of the Aztec 
were all his own. They refused to submit to European 
culture, — to be engrafted on a foreign stock. His 
outward form, his complexion, his lineaments, are sub- 
stantially the same ; but the moral characteristics of 
the nation, all that constituted its individuality as a 
race, are effaced forever. 

Two of the principal authorities for this chapter are Torquemada 
and Clavigero. The former, a Provincial of the Franciscan order, 
came to the New World about the middle of the sixteenth century. 
As the generation of the Conquerors had not then passed away, he 
had ample opportunities of gathering the particulars of their enterprise 
from their own lips. Fifty years, during which he continued in the 
country, put him in possession of the traditions and usages of the 
natives, and enabled him to collect their history from the earliest 
missionaries, as well as from such monuments as the fanaticism of his 


own countrymen had not then destroyed. From these ample sources 
he compiled his bulky tomes, beginning, after the approved fashion of 
the ancient Castilian chroniclers, with the creation of the world, and 
embracing the whole circle of the Mexican institutions, political, reli- 
gious, and social, from the earliest period to his own time. In handling 
these fruitful themes, the worthy father has shown a full measure of 
the bigotry which belonged to his order at that period. Every page, 
too, is loaded with illustrations from Scripture or profane history, which 
form a whimsical contrast to the barbaric staple of his story ; and he 
has sometimes fallen into serious errors, from his misconception of the 
chronological system of the Aztecs. But, notwithstanding these glaring 
defects in the composition of the work, the student, aware of his 
author's infirmities, will find few better guides than Torquemada in 
tracing the stream of historic truth up to the fountain-head ; such is 
his manifest integrity, and so great were his facilities for information 
on the most curious points of Mexican antiquity. No work, accord- 
ingly, has been more largely consulted and copied, even by some 
who, like Herrera, have affected to set little value on the sources 
whence its information was drawn. (Hist, general, dec. 6, lib. 6, cap. 
19.) The Monarchia Indiana was first published at Seville, 1615 
(Nic. Antonio, Bibliotheca Nova (Matriti, 1783), torn. ii. p. 787), and 
since, in a better style, in three volumes folio, at Madrid, in 1723. 

The other authority, frequently cited in the preceding pages, is the 
Abbe Clavigero's Storia antlca del Messico. It was originally printed 
towards the close of the last century, in the Italian language, and in 
Italy, whither the author, a native of Vera Cruz, and a member of the 
order of the Jesuits, had retired, on the expulsion of that body from Span- 
ish America, in 1767. During a residence of thirty-five years in his own 
country, Clavigero had made himself intimately acquainted with its 
antiquities, by the careful examination of paintings, manuscripts, and 
such other remains as were to be found in his day. The plan of his 
work is nearly as comprehensive as that of his predecessor, Torque- 
mada ; but the later and more cultivated period in which he wrote is 
visible in the superior address with which he has managed his compli- 
cated subject. In the elaborate disquisitions in his concluding volume, 
he has done much to rectify the chronology and the various inac- 
curacies of preceding writers. Indeed, an avowed object of his work 
was to vindicate his countrymen from what he conceived to be the 
misrepresentations of Robertson, Raynal, and De Pau. In regard to 
the last two he was perfectly successful. Such an ostensible design 


might naturally suggest unfavorable ideas of his impartiality. But, 
on the whole, he seems to have conducted the discussion with good 
faith ; and, if he has been led by national zeal to overcharge the picture 
with brilliant colors, he will be found much more temperate, in this 
respect, than those who preceded him, while he has applied sound 
principles of criticism, of which they were incapable. In a word, the 
diligence of his researches has gathered into one focus the scattered 
lights of tradition and antiquarian lore, purified in a great measure 
from the mists of superstition which obscure the best productions of 
an earlier period. From these causes, the work, notwithstanding its 
occasional prolixity, and the disagreeable aspect given to it by the pro- 
fusion of uncouth names in the Mexican orthography, which bristle 
over every page, has found merited favor with the public, and created 
something like a popular interest in the subject. Soon after its publi- 
cation at Cesena, in 1780, it was translated into English, and more 
lately into Spanish and German. 



The civil polity of the Aztecs is so closely blended 
with their religion that without understanding the 
latter it is impossible to form correct ideas of their 
government or their social institutions. I shall pass 
over, for the present, some remarkable traditions, 
bearing a singular resemblance to those found in the 
Scriptures, and endeavor to give a brief sketch of their 
mythology and their careful provisions for maintaining 
a national worship. 

Mythology may be regarded as the poetry of religion, 
or rather as the poetic development of the religious 
principle in a primitive age. It is the effort of un- 
tutored man to explain the mysteries of existence, and 
the secret agencies by which the operations of nature 
are conducted. Although the growth of similar con- 
ditions of society, its character must vary with that 
of the rude tribes in which it originates; and the 
ferocious Goth, quaffing mead from the skulls of 
his slaughtered enemies, must have a very different 
mythology from that of the effeminate native of His- 
paniola, loitering away his hours in idle pastimes, 
under the shadow of his bananas. 

At a later and more refined period, we sometimes 



find these primitive legends combined into a regular 
system under the hands of the poet, and the rude out- 
line moulded into forms of ideal beauty, which are 
the objects of adoration in a credulous age, and the 
delight of all succeeding ones. Such were the beauti- 
ful inventions of Hesiod and Homer, "who," says 
the Father of History, "created the theogony of the 
Greeks;" an assertion not to be taken too literally, 
since it is hardly possible that any man should create a 
religious system for his nation. 1 They only filled up 
the shadowy outlines of tradition with the bright 
touches of their own imaginations, until they had 
clothed them in beauty which kindled the imaginations 
of others. The power of the poet, indeed, may be 
felt in a similar way in a much riper period of society. 
To say nothing of the " Divina Commedia," who is 
there that rises from the perusal of "Paradise Lost" 
without feeling his own conceptions of the angelic 
hierarchy quickened by those of the inspired artist, 
and a new and sensible form, as it were, given to 
images which had before floated dim and undefined 
before him ? 

The last-mentioned period is succeeded by that of 
philosophy; which, disclaiming alike the legends of 
the primitive age and the poetical embellishments of 
the succeeding one, seeks to shelter itself from the 
charge of impiety by giving an allegorical interpreta- 

1 -KOLfjaavTeQ ■&eoyovirjv "EXhjai. Herodotus, Euterpe, sec. 53. — 
Heeren hazards a remark equally strong, respecting the epic poets of 
India, "who," says he, "have supplied the numerous gods that fill 
her Pantheon." Historical Researches, Eng. trans. (Oxford, 1833), 
voL iii. p. 139. 



tion to the popular mythology, and thus to reconcile 
the latter with the genuine deductions of science. 

The Mexican religion had emerged from the first of 
the periods we have been considering, and, although 
little affected by poetical influences, had received a 
peculiar complexion from the priests, who had digested 
as thorough and burdensome a ceremonial as ever ex- 
isted in any nation. They had, moreover, thrown the 
veil of allegory over early tradition, and invested their 
deities with attributes savoring much more of the gro- 
tesque conceptions of the Eastern nations in the Old 
World, than of the lighter fictions of Greek mythology, 
in which the features of humanity, however exaggerated, 
were never wholly abandoned. 2 

In contemplating the religious system of the Aztecs, 
one is struck with its apparent incongruity, as if some 
portion of it had emanated from a comparatively refined 
people, open to gentle influences, while the rest breathes 
a spirit of unmitigated ferocity. It naturally suggests 
the idea of two distinct sources, and authorizes the 
belief that the Aztecs had inherited from their prede- 
cessors a milder faith, on which was afterwards engrafted 
their own mythology. The latter soon became domi- 
nant, and gave its dark coloring to the creeds of the 
conquered nations, — which the Mexicans, like the 
ancient Romans, seem willingly to have incorporated 

a The Hon. Mountstuart Elphinstone has fallen into a similar train 
of thought, in a comparison of the Hindoo and Greek Mythology, in 
his " History of India," published since the remarks in the text were 
written. (See Book I. ch. 4.) The same chapter of this truly philo- 
sophic work suggests some curious points of resemblance to the Aztec 
religious institutions, that may furnish pertinent illustrations to the 
mind bent on tracing the affinities of the Asiatic and American races. 


into their own, — until the same funereal superstition 
settled over the farthest borders of Anahuac. 

The Aztecs recognized the existence of a supreme 
Creator and Lord of the universe. They addressed 
him, in their prayers, as " the God by whom we live," 
"omnipresent, that knoweth all thoughts, and giveth 
all gifts," "without whom man is as nothing," "in- 
visible, incorporeal, one God, of perfect perfection and 
purity," "under whose wings we find repose and a 
sure defence." These sublime attributes infer no in- 
adequate conception of the true God. But the idea of 
unity — of a being with whom volition is action, who 
has no need of inferior ministers to execute his pur- 
poses — was too simple, or too vast, for their under- 
standings ; and they sought relief, as usual, in a plurality 
of deities, who presided over the elements, the changes 
of the seasons, and the various occupations of man. 3 
Of these, there were thirteen principal deities, and 
more than two hundred inferior ; to each of whom 
some special day or appropriate festival was conse- 
crated. 4 

3 Ritter has well shown, by the example of the Hindoo system, how 
the idea of unity suggests, of itself, that of plurality. History of 
Ancient Philosophy, Eng. trans. (Oxford, 1838), book 2, ch. 1. 

4 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 6, passim. — Acosta, lib. 5, 
ch. 9. — Boturini, Idea, p. 8, et seq. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., 
cap. 1. — Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. — The Mexicans, according 
to Clavigero, believed in an evil Spirit, the enemy of the human race, 
whose barbarous name signified " Rational Owl." (Stor. del Messico, 
torn. ii. p. 2.) The curate Bernaldez speaks of the Devil being em- 
broidered on the dresses of Columbus's Indians, in the likeness of an 
owl. (Historia de los Reyes Catolicos, MS., cap. 131.) This must 
not be confounded, however, with the evil Spirit in the mythology of 
the North American Indians (see Heckewelder's Account, ap. Trans- 



At the head of all stood the terrible Huitzilopochtli, 
the Mexican Mars ; although it is doing injustice to 
the heroic war-god of antiquity to identify him with 
this sanguinary monster. This was the patron deity 
of the nation. His fantastic image was loaded with 
costly ornaments. His temples were the most stately 
and august of the public edifices ; and his altars reeked 
with the blood of human hecatombs in every city of 
the empire. Disastrous indeed must have been the 
influence of such a superstition on the character of the 
people. 3 

actions of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, vol. i. p. 
205), still less with the evil Principle of the Oriental nations of the Old 
World. It was only one among many deities, for evil was found too 
liberally mingled in the natures of most of the Aztec gods — in the 
same manner as with the Greeks — to admit of its personification by 
any one. 

S Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 3, cap. 1, et seq. — Acosta, 
lib. 5, ch. 9. — Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 6, cap. 21. — Boturini, 
Idea, pp. 27, 28. — Huitzilopochtli is compounded of two words, signi- 
fying " humming-bird," and " left," from his image having the feathers 
of this bird on its left foot (Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. p. 
17) ; an amiable etymology for so ruffian a deity* — The fantastic 

* [The name may possibly have referred to the whispered oracles 
and intimations in dreams — such as " a little bird of the air" is still 
fabled to convey — by which, according to the legend, the deity had 
guided his people in their migrations and conquests. That it had a 
symbolical meaning will hardly be doubted, and M. Brasseur de Bour- 
bourg, who had originally explained it as " Huitzil the Left-handed," 
— the proper name of a deified hero with the addition of a descriptive 
epithet, — has since found one of too deep an import to be briefly ex- 
pounded or easily understood. (Quatre Lettres sur le Mexique (Paris, 
1868), p. 201, et al.) Mexitl, another name of the same deity, is 
translated " the hare of the aloes." In some accounts the two are 
distinct personages. Mythological science rejects the legend, and re- 


A far more interesting personage in their mythology 
was Quetzalcoatl, god of the air, a divinity who, during 

forms of the Mexican idols were in the highest degree symbolical. 
See Gama's learned exposition of the devices on the statue of the 
goddess found in the great square of Mexico. (Descripcion de las 
Dos Piedras (Mexico, 1832), Parte 1, pp. 34-44.) The tradition re- 
specting the origin of this god, or, at least, his appearance on earth, is 
curious. He was born of a woman. His mother, a devout person, 
one day, in her attendance on the temple, saw a ball of bright-colored 
feathers floating in the air. She took it, and deposited it in her bosom. 
She soon after found herself pregnant, and the dread deity was born, 
coming into the world, like Minerva, all armed, — with a spear in the 
right hand, a shield in the left, and his head surmounted by a crest of 
green plumes. (See Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. p. 19, et 
seq.) A similar notion in respect to the incarnation of their principal 
deity existed among the people of India beyond the Ganges, of China, 
and of Thibet. " Budh," says Milman, in his learned and luminous 
work on the History of Christianity, " according to a tradition known 
in the West, was born of a virgin. So were the Fohi of China, and 
the Schakaof of Thibet, no doubt the same, whether a mythic or a 
real personage. The Jesuits in China, says Barrow, were appalled at 
finding in the mythology of that country the counterpart of the Virgo 
Deipara." (Vol. i. p. 99, note.) The existence of similar religious 
ideas in remote regions, inhabited by different races, is an interesting 
subject of study ; furnishing, as it does, one of the most important 
links in the great chain of communication which binds together the 
distant families of nations. 

gards the Aztec war-god as a " nature-deity," a personification of the 
lightning, this being a natural type of warlike might, of which the com- 
mon symbol, the serpent, was represented among the decorations of the 
idol. (Myths of the New World, p. 118.) More commonly he has been 
identified with the sun, and Mr. Tylor, while declining " to attempt a 
general solution of this inextricable compound parthenogenetic deity," 
notices the association of his principal festival with the winter's solstice, 
and the fact that his paste idol was then shot through with an arrow, 
as tending to show that the life and death of the deity were emblem- 
atic of the year's, " while his functions of war-god may have been of 
later addition." Primitive Culture, torn. ii. p. 279. — ED.] 


his residence on earth, instructed the natives in the use 
of metals, in agriculture, and in the arts of govern- 
ment. He was one of those benefactors of their spe- 
cies, doubtless, who have been deified by the gratitude 
of posterity. Under him, the earth teemed with fruits 
and flowers, without the pains of culture. An ear of 
Indian corn was as much as a single man could carry. 
The cotton, as it grew, took, of its own accord, the 
rich dyes of human art. The air was filled with intox- 
icating perfumes and the sweet melody of birds. In 
short, these were the halcyon days, which find a place 
in the mythic systems of so many nations in the Old 
World. It was the golden age of Anahuac. 

From some cause, not explained, Quetzalcoatl in- 
curred the wrath of one of the principal gods, and was 
compelled to abandon the country. On his way he 
stopped at the city of Cholula, where a temple was 
dedicated to his worship, the massy ruins of which 
still form one of the most interesting relics of antiquity 
in Mexico. When he reached the shores of the Mexican 
Gulf, he took leave of his followers, promising that he 
and his descendants would revisit them hereafter, and 
then, entering his wizard skiff, made of serpents' skins, 
embarked on the great ocean for the fabled land of 
Tlapallan. He was said to have been tall in stature, 
with a white skin, long, dark hair, and a flowing beard. 
The Mexicans looked confidently to the return of the 
benevolent deity ; and this remarkable tradition, deeply 
cherished in their hearts, prepared the way, as we shall 
see hereafter, for the future success of the Spaniards. 6 

*> Codex Vaticanus, PI. 15, and Codex Telleriano-Remensis, Part. 2, 
PI. 2, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vols. L, vi. — Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva- 
Vol. I.— 6 


We have not space for further details respecting the 
Mexican divinities, the attributes of many of whom 

Espaiia, lib. 3, cap. 3, 4, 13, 14. — Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 6, 
cap. 24. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 1. — Gomara, Cr6nica 
de la Nueva-Espana, cap. 222, ap. Barcia, Historiadores primitivos de 
las Indias Occidentales (Madrid, 1749), torn. ii. — Quetzalcoatl signi- 
fies " feathered serpent." The last syllable means, likewise, a " twin ;" 
which furnished an argument for Dr. Siguenza to identify this god 
with the apostle Thomas (Didymus signifying also a twin), who, he 
supposes, came over to America to preach the gospel. In this rather 
startling conjecture he is supported by several of his devout country- 
men, who appear to have as little doubt of the fact as of the advent 
of St. James, for a similar purpose, in the mother-country. See the 
various authorities and arguments set forth with becoming gravity in 
Dr. Mier's dissertation in Bustamante's edition of Sahagun (lib. 3, 
Suplem.), and Veytia (torn. i. pp. 160-200). Our ingenious country- 
man McCulloh carries the Aztec god up to a still more respectable 
antiquity, by identifying him with the patriarch Noah. Researches, 
Philosophical and Antiquarian, concerning the Aboriginal History of 
America (Baltimore, 1829), p. 233.* 

* [Under the modern system of mythical interpretation, which has 
been applied by Dr. Brinton with singular force and ingenuity to 
the traditions of the New World, Quetzalcoatl, " the central figure 
of Toltec mythology," with the corresponding figures found in the 
legends of the Mayas, Quiches, Peruvians, and other races, loses all 
personal existence, and becomes a creation of that primitive religious 
sentiment which clothed the uncomprehended powers of nature with 
the attributes of divinity. His name, " Bird-Serpent," unites the 
emblems of the wind and the lightning. " He is both lord of the 
eastern light and the winds. As the former, he was born of a virgin 
in the land of Tula or Tlapallan, in the distant Orient, and was high- 
priest of that happy realm. The morning star was his symbol. . . . 
Like all the dawn heroes, he too was represented as of white com- 
plexion, clothed in long white robes, and, as most of the Aztec gods, 
with a full and flowing beard. When his earthly work was done, he 
too returned to the east, assigning as a reason that the sun, the ruler 
of Tlapalian, demanded his presence. But the real motive was that 


were carefully defined, as they descended, in regular 
gradation, to the penates or household gods, whose 
little images were to be found in the humblest dwelling. 

he had been overcome by Tezcatlipoca, otherwise called Yoalliehecatl, 
the wind or spirit of the night, who had descended from heaven by a 
spider's web and presented his rival with a draught pretended to 
confer immortality, but, in fact, producing uncontrollable longing for 
home. For the wind and the light both depart when the gloaming 
draws near, or when the clouds spread their dark and shadowy webs 
along the mountains and pour the vivifying rain upon the fields. . . . 
Wherever he went, all manner of singing birds bore him company, 
emblems of the whistling breezes. When he finally disappeared in the 
far east, he sent back four trusty youths, who had ever shared his 
fortunes, incomparably swift and light of foot, with directions to divide 
the earth between them and rule it till he should return and resume 
his power." (The Myths of the New World, p. 180, et seq.) So far 
as mere physical attributes are concerned, this analysis may be accepted 
as a satisfactory elucidation of the class of figures to which it relates. 
But the grand and distinguishing characteristic of these figures is the 
moral and intellectual eminence ascribed to them. They are invested 
with the highest qualities of humanity, — attributes neither drawn from 
the external phenomena of nature nor born of any rude sentiment of 
wonder and fear. Their lives and doctrines are in strong contrast with 
those of the ordinary divinities of the same or other lands, and they 
are objects not of a propitiatory worship, but of a pious veneration. 
Can we, then, assent to the conclusion that under this aspect also they 
were " wholly mythical," " creations of the religious fancy," " ideals 
summing up in themselves the best traits, the most approved virtues, 
of whole nations"? (Ibid., pp. 293, 294.) This would seem to imply 
that nations may attain to lofty conceptions of moral truth and excel- 
lence by a process of selection, without any standard or point of view 
furnished by living embodiments of the ideal. But this would be as 
impossible as to arrive at conceptions of the highest forms and ideas 
of art independently of the special genius and actual productions of 
the artist. In the one case, as in the other, the ideal is derived originally 
from examples shaped by finer and deeper intuitions than those of 
the masses. " Im Anfang war die That." The mere fact, therefore, 
that the Mexican people recognized an exalted ideal of purity and 
wisdom is a sufficient proof that men had existed among them who 


The Aztecs felt the curiosity, common to man in 
almost every stage of civilization, to lift the veil which 
covers the mysterious past and the more awful future. 
They sought relief, like the nations of the Old Conti- 
nent, from the oppressive idea of eternity, by breaking 
it up into distinct cycles, or periods of time, each of 
several thousand years' duration. There were four of 
these cycles, and at the end of each, by the agency of 
one of the elements, the human family was swept from 
the earth, and the sun blotted out from the heavens, to 
be again rekindled. 7 

7 Cod. Vat., PI. 7-10, Antiq. of Mexico, vols, i., vi. — Ixtlilxochitl, 
Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 1. — M. de Humboldt has been at some pains 
to trace the analogy between the Aztec cosmogony and that of Eastern 
Asia. He has tried, though in vain, to find a multiple which might 
serve as the key to the calculations of the former. (Vues des Cordil- 
leres, pp. 202-212.) In truth, there seems to be a material discordance 
in the Mexican statements, both in regard to the number of revolu- 
tions and their duration. A manuscript before me, of Ixtlilxochitl, 
reduces them to three, before the present state of the world, and 
allows only 4394 years for them (Sumaria Relacion, MS., No. 1); 
Gama, on the faith of an ancient Indian MS. in Boturini's Catalogue 
(viii. 13), reduces the duration still lower (Descripcion de las Dos 
Piedras, Parte 1, p. 49, et seq.) ; while the cycles of the Vatican paint- 
ings take up near 18,000 years. — It is interesting to observe how the 
wild conjectures of an ignorant age have been confirmed by the more 
recent discoveries in geology, making it probable that the earth has 

displayed these qualities in an eminent degree. The status of their 
civilization, imperfect as it was, can be accounted for only in the same 
way. Comparative mythology may resolve into its original elements 
a personification of the forces of nature woven by the religious fancy 
of primitive races, but it cannot sever that chain of discoverers and 
civilizers by which mankind has been drawn from the abysses of savage 
ignorance, and by which its progress, when uninterrupted, has been 
always maintained. — Ed.] 



They imagined three separate states of existence in 
the future life. The wicked, comprehending the greater 
part of mankind, were to expiate their sins in a place 
of everlasting darkness. Another class, with no other 
merit than that of having died of certain diseases, 
capriciously selected, were to enjoy a negative exist- 
ence of indolent contentment. The highest place was 
reserved, as in most warlike nations, for the heroes 
who fell in battle, or in sacrifice. They passed at 
once into the presence of the Sun, whom they accom- 
panied with songs and choral dances in his bright 
progress through the heavens ; and, after some years, 
their spirits went to animate the clouds and singing- 
birds of beautiful plumage, and to revel amidst the 
rich blossoms and odors of the gardens of paradise. 8 
Such was the heaven of the Aztecs ; more refined in 
its character than that of the more polished pagan, 
whose elysium reflected only the martial sports or sen- 
sual gratifications of this life. 9 In the destiny they 

experienced a number of convulsions, possibly thousands of years 
distant from each other, which have swept away the races then existing, 
and given a new aspect to the globe. 

8 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espafia, lib. 3, Apend. — Cod. Vat., ap. 
Antiq. of Mexico, PI. 1-5. — Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 
48. — The last writer assures us " that, as to what the Aztecs said of 
their going to hell, they were right ; for, as they died in ignorance of 
the true faith, they have, without question, all gone there to suffer 
everlasting punishment " ! Ubi supra. 

9 It conveys but a poor idea of these pleasures, that the shade of 
Achilles can say " he had rather be the slave of the meanest man on 
earth, than sovereign among the dead." (Odyss., A. 488-490.) The 
Mahometans believe that the souls of martyrs pass, after death, into 
the bodies of birds, that haunt the sweet waters and bowers of Para- 
dise. (Sale's Koran (London, 1825), vol. i. p. 106.) — The Mexican 



assigned to the wicked, we discern similar traces of 
refinement; since the absence of all physical torture 
forms a striking contrast to the schemes of suffering 
so ingeniously devised by the fancies of the most en- 
lightened nations. 10 In all this, so contrary to the 
natural suggestions of the ferocious Aztec, we see the 
evidences of a higher civilization,* inherited from their 
predecessors in the land. 

Our limits will allow only a brief allusion to one 
or two of their most interesting ceremonies. On the 
death of a person, his corpse was dressed in the pecu- 
liar habiliments of his tutelar deity. It was strewed 
with pieces of paper, which operated as charms against 
the dangers of the dark road he was to travel. A 
throng of slaves, if he were rich, was sacrificed at his 
obsequies. His body was burned, and the ashes, col- 
lected in a vase, were preserved in one of the apart - 

heaven may remind one of Dante's, in its material enjoyments; which, 
in both, are made up of light, music, and motion. The sun, it must 
also be remembered, was a spiritual conception with the Aztec : 

" He sees with other eyes than theirs ; where they 
Behold a sun, he spies a deity." 

10 It is singular that the Tuscan bard, while exhausting his invention 
in devising modes of bodily torture, in his " Inferno," should have 
made so little use of the moral sources of misery. That he has not 
done so might be reckoned a strong proof of the rudeness of the time, 
did we not meet with examples of it in a later day ; in which a serious 
and sublime writer, like Dr. Watts, does not disdain to employ the 
same coarse machinery for moving the conscience of the reader. 

* [It should perhaps be regarded rather as evidence of a low civili- 
zation, since the absence of any strict ideas of retribution is a charac- 
teristic of the notions in regard to a future life entertained by savage 
races. See Tylor, Primitive Culture, vol. ii. p. 76, et seq. — Ed.] 


ments of his house. Here we have successively the 
usages of the Roman Catholic, the Mussulman, the 
Tartar, and the ancient Greek and Roman ; curious 
coincidences, which may show how cautious we should 
be in adopting conclusions founded on analogy." 

A more extraordinary coincidence may be traced 
with Christian rites, in the ceremony of naming their 
children. The lips and bosom of the infant were 
sprinkled with water, and "the Lord was implored to 
permit the holy drops to wash away the sin that was 
given to it before the foundation of the world ; so that 
the child might be born anew. ' ' " We are reminded 
of Christian morals, in more than one of their prayers, 
in which they used regular forms. " Wilt thou blot us 
out, O Lord, forever? Is this punishment intended, 
not for our reformation, but for our destruction?" 
Again, " Impart to us, out of thy great mercy, thy 

11 Carta del Lie. Zuazo (Nov. 1521), MS. — Acosta, lib. 5, cap. 8. — 
Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 45. — Sahagun, Hist, de 
Nueva-Espana, lib. 3, Apend. — Sometimes the body was buried entire, 
with valuable treasures, if the deceased was rich. The " Anonymous 
Conqueror," as he is called, saw gold to the value of 3000 castellanos 
drawn from one of these tombs. Relatione d'un gentil' huomo, ap. 
Ramusio, torn. iii. p. 310. 

12 This interesting rite, usually solemnized with great formality, in the 
presence of the assembled friends and relatives, is detailed with minute- 
ness by Sahagun (Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 6, cap. 37), and by 
Zuazo (Carta, MS.), both of them eye-witnesses. For a version of 
part of Sahagun's account, see Appendix, Part 1, note 26.* 

* [A similar rite of baptism, founded on the natural symbolism of 
the purifying power of water, was practised by other races in Ameiica, 
and had existed in the East, as the reader need hardly be told, long 
anterior to Christianity. — Ed.] 


gifts, which we are not worthy to receive through our 
own merits." "Keep peace with all," says another 
petition; "bear injuries with humility; God, who 
sees, will avenge you. ' ' But the most striking parallel 
with Scripture is in the remarkable declaration that 
"he who looks too curiously on a woman commits 
adultery with his eyes. ' ' ,3 These pure and elevated 
maxims, it is true, are mixed up with others of a 
puerile, and even brutal, character, arguing that con- 
fusion of the moral perceptions which is natural in the 
twilight of civilization. One would not expect, how- 
ever, to meet, in such a state of society, with doctrines 
as sublime as any inculcated by the enlightened codes 
of ancient philosophy. 14 

•3 " i Es posible que este azote y este castigo no se nos da para 
rmestra correction y enmienda, sino para total destruction y aso- 
lamiento?" (Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espafia, lib. 6, cap. i.) "Y 
esto por sola vuestra liberalidad y magnificencia lc habeis de hacer, 
que ninguno es digno ni merecedor de recibir vuestra larguezas por 
su dignidad y merecimiento, sino que por vuestra benignidad." (Ibid., 
lib. 6, cap. 2.) "Sed sufridos y reportados, que Dios bien os ve y 
responded por vosotros, y el os vengara (d.) sed humildes con todos, 
y con esto os hard Dios merced y tambien honra." (Ibid., lib. 6, cap. 
17.) " Tampoco mires con curiosidad el gesto y disposition de la 
gente principal, mayormente de las mugeres, y sobre todo de las 
casadas, porque dice el refran que dl que curiosamente mira a la mugei 
adultera con la vista." (Ibid., lib. 6, cap. 22.) 

14 [On reviewing the remarkable coincidences shown in the above 
pages with the sentiments and even the phraseology of Scripture, we 
cannot but admit there is plausible ground for Mr. Gallatin's con- 
jecture that the Mexicans, after the Conquest, attributed to their remote 
ancestors ideas which more properly belonged to a generation coeval 
with the Conquest, and brought into contact with the Europeans. 
"The substance," he remarks, "may be true; but several of the 
prayers convey elevated and correct notions of a Supreme Being, 
which appear to me altogether inconsistent with that which we know 


But, although the Aztec mythology gathered nothing 
from the beautiful inventions of the poet or from the 
refinements of philosophy, it was much indebted, as I 
have noticed, to the priests, who endeavored to dazzle 
the imagination of the people by the most formal and 
pompous ceremonial. The influence of the priesthood 
must be greatest in an imperfect state of civilization, 
where it engrosses all the scanty science of the time in 
its own body. This is particularly the case when the 
science is of that spurious kind which is less occupied 
with the real phenomena of nature than with the fan- 
ciful chimeras of human superstition. Such are the 
sciences of astrology and divination, in which the 
Aztec priests were well initiated; and, while they 
seemed to hold the keys of the future in their own 
hands, they impressed the ignorant people with sen- 
timents of superstitious awe, beyond that which has 
probably existed in any other country, — even in ancient 

The sacerdotal order was very numerous ; as may be 

to have been their practical religion and worship."* Transactions 
of the American Ethnological Society, i. 210.] 

* [It is evident that an inconsistency such as belongs to all religions, 
and to human nature in general, affords no sufficient ground for 
doubting the authenticity of the prayers reported by Sahagun. Similar 
specimens of prayers used by the Peruvians have been preserved, and, 
like those of the Aztecs, exhibit, in their recognition of spiritual as 
distinct from material blessings, a contrast to the forms of petition 
employed by the wholly uncivilized races of the north. They are in 
harmony with the purer conceptions of morality which those nations 
are admitted to have possessed, and which formed the real basis of 
their civilization. — Ed.] 



inferred from the statement that five thousand priests 
were, in some way or other, attached to the principal 
temple in the capital. The various ranks and functions 
of this multitudinous body were discriminated with 
great exactness. Those best instructed in music took 
the management of the choirs. Others arranged the 
festivals conformably to the calendar. Some superin- 
tended the education of youth, and others had charge 
of the hieroglyphical paintings and oral traditions; 
while the dismal rites of sacrifice were reserved for the 
chief dignitaries of the order. At the head of the 
whole establishment were two high-priests, elected from 
the order, as it would seem, by the king and principal 
nobles, without reference to birth, but solely for their 
qualifications, as shown by their previous conduct in a 
subordinate station. They were equal in dignity, and 
inferior only to the sovereign, who rarely acted without 
their advice in weighty matters of public concern. 13 

The priests were each devoted to the service of some 
particular deity, and had quarters provided within the 
spacious precincts of their temple ; at least, while en- 
gaged in immediate attendance there, — for they were 

'5 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 2, Apend. ; lib. 3, cap. 9. — 
Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 8, cap. 20; lib. 9, cap. 3, 56. — 
Gomara, Cron., cap. 215, ap. Barcia, torn. ii. — Toribio, Hist, de los 
Indios, MS., Parte i, cap. 4. — Clavigero says that the high-priest was 
necessarily a person of rank. (Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. p. 37.) I 
find no authority for this, not even in his oracle, Torquemada, who 
expressly says, " There is no warrant for the assertion, however proba- 
ble the fact may be." (Monarch. Ind., lib. 9, cap. 5.) It is contra- 
dicted by Sahagun, whom I have followed as the highest authority in 
these matters. Clavigero had no other knowledge of Sahagun's work 
than what was filtered through the writings of Torquemada and later 



allowed to marry, and have families of their own. 
In this monastic residence they lived in all the stern 
severity of conventual discipline. Thrice during the 
day, and once at night, they were called to prayers. 
They were frequent in their ablutions and vigils, and 
mortified the flesh by fasting and cruel penance, — 
drawing blood from their bodies by flagellation, or by 
piercing them with the thorns of the aloe ; in short, 
by practising all those austerities to which fanaticism 
(to borrow the strong language of the poet) has 
resorted, in every age of the world, 

" In hopes to merit heaven by making earth a hell." l6 

The great cities were divided into districts, placed 
under the charge of a sort of parochial clergy, who 
regulated every act of religion within their precincts. 
It is remarkable that they administered the rites of 
confession and absolution. The secrets of the con- 
fessional were held inviolable, and penances were 
imposed of much the same kind as those enjoined in 
the Roman Catholic Church. There were two re- 
markable peculiarities in the Aztec ceremony. The 
first was, that, as the repetition of an offence once 
atoned for was deemed inexpiable, confession was made 
but once in a man's life, and was usually deferred to 
a late period of it, when the penitent unburdened his 
conscience and settled at once the long arrears of 
iniquity. Another peculiarity was, that priestly abso- 
lution was received in place of the legal punishment 
of offences, and authorized an acquittal in case of 

16 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, ubi supra. — Torquemada. 
Monarch. Ind., lib. 9, cap. 25. — Gomara, Cron., ap. Barcia, ubi 
supra. — Acosta, lib. 5, cap. 14, 17. 



arrest. Long after the Conquest, the simple natives, 
when they came under the arm of the law, sought to 
escape by producing the certificate of their confession. 17 
One of the most important duties of the priesthood 
was that of education, to which certain buildings were 
appropriated within the enclosure of the principal tem- 
ple. Here the youth of both sexes, of the higher and 
middling orders, were placed at a very tender age. 
The girls were intrusted to the care of priestesses ; for 
women were allowed to exercise sacerdotal functions, 
except those of sacrifice. 18 In these institutions the 

x 7 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. i, cap. 12; lib. 6, cap. 7. 
— The address of the confessor, on these occasions, contains some 
things too remarkable to be omitted. " O merciful Lord," he says, in 
his prayer, " thou who knowest the secrets of all hearts, let thy forgive- 
ness and favor descend, like the pure waters of heaven, to wash away 
the stains from the soul. Thou knowest that this poor man has sinned, 
not from his own free will, but from the influence of the sign under 
which he was born." After a copious exhortation to the penitent, 
enjoining a variety of mortifications and minute ceremonies by way 
of penance, and particularly urging the necessity of instantly pro- 
curing a slave for sacrifice to the Deity, the priest concludes with 
inculcating charity to the poor. " Clothe the naked and feed the 
hungry, whatever privations it may cost thee ; for remember, their 
flesh is like thine, and they are men like thee." Such is the strange 
medley of truly Christian benevolence and heathenish abominations 
which pervades the Aztec litany, — intimating sources widely different. 

* 8 The Egyptian gods were also served by priestesses. (See Herod- 
otus, Euterpe, sec. 54.) Tales of scandal similar to those which the 
Greeks circulated respecting them, have been told of the Aztec vir- 
gins. (See Le Noir's dissertation, ap. Antiquites Mexicaines (Paris, 
1834), torn. ii. p. 7, note.) The early missionaries, credulous enough 
certainly, give no countenance to such reports ; and Father Acosta, 
on the contrary, exclaims, " In truth, it is very strange to see that this 
false opinion of religion hath so great force among these yoong men 
and maidens of Mexico, that they will serve the Divell with so great 
rigor and austerity, which many of us doe not in the service of the 



boys were drilled in the routine of monastic discipline j 
they decorated the shrines of the gods with flowers, 
fed the sacred fires, and took part in the religious 
chants and festivals. Those in the higher school — the 
Calmecac, as it was called — were initiated in their 
traditionary lore, the mysteries of hieroglyphics, the 
principles of government, and such branches of astro- 
nomical and natural science as were within the com- 
pass of the priesthood. The girls learned various 
feminine employments, especially to weave and em- 
broider rich coverings for the altars of the gods. 
Great attention was paid to the moral discipline of 
both sexes. The most perfect decorum prevailed ; 
and offences were punished with extreme rigor, in 
some instances with death itself. Terror, not love, 
was the spring of education with the Aztecs. 19 

At a suitable age for marrying, or for entering into 
the world, the pupils were dismissed, with much cere- 
mony, from the convent, and the recommendation of 
the principal often introduced those most competent 
to responsible situations in public life. Such was the 
crafty policy of the Mexican priests, who, by reserving 
to themselves the business of instruction, were enabled 

most high God; the which is a great shame and confusion." Eng. 
trans., lib. 5, cap. 16. 

x 9 Toribio, Hist, de los Indios, MS., Parte 1, cap. 9. — Sahagun, Hist, 
de Nueva-Espana, lib. 2, Apend. ; lib. 3, cap. 4-8. — Zurita, Rapport, 
pp. 123-126. — Acosta, lib. 5, cap. 15, 16. — Torquemada, Monarch. 
Ind., lib. 9, cap. 11-14, 30, 31. — "They were taught," says the good 
father last cited, " to eschew vice, and cleave to virtue, — according to 
their notions of them ; namely, to abstain from wrath, to offer violence 
and do wrong to no man, — in short, to perform the duties plainly 
pointed out by natural religion." 
Vol. I.— d 7 


to mould the young and plastic mind according to 
their own wills, and to train it early to implicit rev- 
erence for religion and its ministers; a reverence 
which still maintained its hold on the iron nature of 
the warrior, long after every other vestige of education 
had been effaced by the rough trade to which he was 

To each of the principal temples, lands were annexed 
for the maintenance of the priests. These estates were 
augmented by the policy or devotion of successive 
princes, until, under the last Montezuma, they had 
swollen to an enormous extent, and covered every dis- 
trict of the empire. The priests took the management 
of their property into their own hands ; and they seem 
to have treated their tenants with the liberality and 
indulgence characteristic of monastic corporations. 
Besides the large supplies drawn from this source, the 
religious order was enriched with the first-fruits, and 
such other offerings as piety or superstition dictated. 
The surplus beyond what was required for the support 
of the national worship was distributed in alms among 
the poor ; a duty strenuously prescribed by their moral 
code. Thus we find the same religion inculcating 
lessons of pure philanthropy, on the one hand, and of 
merciless extermination, as we shall soon see, on the 
other. The inconsistency will not appear incredible 
to those who are familiar with the history of the Roman 
Catholic Church, in the early ages of the Inquisition. 20 

30 Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 8, cap. 20, 21. — Camargo, Hist, 
de Tlascala, MS. — It is impossible not to be struck with the great 
resemblance, not merely in a few empty forms, but in the whole way 
of life, of the Mexican and Egyptian priesthood. Compare Herod- 



The Mexican temples — teocallis, "houses of God," 
as they were called* — were very numerous. There were 
several hundreds in each of the principal cities, many 
of them, doubtless, very humble edifices. They were 
solid masses of earth, cased with brick or stone, and in 
their form somewhat resembled the pyramidal structures 
of ancient Egypt. The bases of many of them were 
more than a hundred feet square, and they towered to 
a still greater height. They were distributed into four 
or five stories, each of smaller dimensions than that 
below. The ascent was by a flight of steps, at an angle 
of the pyramid, on the outside. This led to a sort of 
terrace, or gallery, at the base of the second story, 
which passed quite round the building to another flight 
of stairs, commencing also at the same angle as the 
preceding and directly over it, and leading to a similar 
terrace ; so that one had to make the circuit of the 
temple several times, before reaching the summit. In 
some instances the stairway led directly up the centre 
of the western face of the building. The top was a 

otus (Euterpe, passim) and Diodorus (lib. i, sec. 73, 81). The English 
reader may consult, for the same purpose, Heeren (Hist. Res., vol. v. 
chap. 2), Wilkinson (Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians 
(London, 1837), vol. i. pp. 257-279), the last writer especially, — who 
has contributed, more than all others, towards opening to us the 
interior of the social life of this interesting people. 

* [Humboldt has noticed the curious similarity of the word teocalli 
with the Greek compound — actual or possible — -deoKaTaa ; and Busch- 
mann observes, " Die Obereinstimmung des mex. teotl und -&Eog, arith- 
metisch sehr hoch anzuschlagen wegen des Doppelvocals, zeigt wie 
weit es der Zufall in Wortahnlichkeiten zwischen ganz verschiedenen 
Sprachen bringen kann." Uber die aztekischen Ortsnamen, S. 627. — 


broad area, on which were erected one or two towers, 
forty or fifty feet high, the sanctuaries in which stood 
the sacred images of the presiding deities. Before 
these towers stood the dreadful stone of sacrifice, and 
two lofty altars, on which fires were kept, as inex- 
tinguishable as those in the temple of Vesta. There 
were said to be six hundred of these altars, on smaller 
buildings within the enclosure of the great temple of 
Mexico, which, with those on the sacred edifices in 
other parts of the city, shed a brilliant illumination 
over its streets, through the darkest night. 21 

From the construction of their temples, all religious 
services were public. The long processions of priests, 
winding round their massive sides, as they rose higher 
and higher towards the summit, and the dismal rites 
of sacrifice performed there, were all visible from the 
remotest corners of the capital, impressing on the 
spectator's mind a superstitious veneration for the 
mysteries of his religion, and for the dread ministers 
by whom they were interpreted. 

This impression was kept in full force by their numer- 
ous festivals. Every month was consecrated to some 
protecting deity; and every week, nay, almost every 

21 Rel. d'un gentil' huomo, ap. Ramusio, torn. iii. fol. 307. — Camargo, 
Hist, de Tlascala, MS. — Acosta, lib. 5, cap. 13. — Gomara, Cron., cap. 
80, ap. Barcia, torn. ii. — Toribio, Hist, de los Indios, MS., Parte 1, 
cap. 4. — Carta del Lie. Zuazo, MS. — This last writer, who visited 
Mexico immediately after the Conquest, in 1521, assures us that some 
of the smaller temples, or pyramids, were filled with earth impregnated 
with odoriferous gums and gold dust ; the latter sometimes in such 
quantities as probably to be worth a million of castellanos I (Ubi 
supra.) These were the temples of Mammon, indeed ! But I find no 
confirmation of such golden reports. 



day, was set down in their calendar for some appro- 
priate celebration ; so that it is difficult to understand 
how the ordinary business of life could have been com- 
patible with the exactions of religion. Many of their 
ceremonies were of a light and cheerful complexion, 
consisting of the national songs and dances, in which 
both sexes joined. Processions were made of women 
and children crowned with garlands and bearing offer- 
ings of fruits, the ripened maize, or the sweet incense 
of copal and other odoriferous gums, while the altars 
of the deity were stained with no blood save that of 
animals. 22 These were the peaceful rites derived from 
their Toltec predecessors, on which the fierce Aztecs 
engrafted a superstition too loathsome to be exhibited 
in all its nakedness, and one over which I would gladly 
draw a veil altogether, but that it would leave the 
reader in ignorance of their most striking institution, 
and one that had the greatest influence in forming the 
national character. 

Human sacrifices were adopted by the Aztecs early 
in the fourteenth century, about two hundred years 
before the Conquest. 23 Rare at first, they became 
more frequent with the wider extent of their empire ; 

22 Cod. Tel.-Rem., PI. i, and Cod. Vat., passim, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, 
vols, i., vi. — Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. io, cap. 10, et seq. — 
Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 2, passim. — Among the offer- 
ings, quails may be particularly noticed, for the incredible quantities 
of them sacrificed and consumed at many of the festivals. 

*3 The traditions of their origin have somewhat of a fabulous tmge. 
But, whether true or false, they are equally indicative of unparalleled 
ferocity in the people who could be the subject of them. Clavigero, 
Stor. del Messico, torn. i. p. 167, et seq. ; also Humboldt (who does 
not appear to doubt them), Vues des Cordilleres, p. 95. 


till, at length, almost every festival was closed with this 
cruel abomination. These religious ceremonials were 
generally arranged in such a manner as to afford a type 
of the most prominent circumstances in the character 
or history of the deity who was the object of them. 
A single example will suffice. 

One of their most important festivals was that in 
honor of the god Tezcatlipoca, whose rank was inferior 
only to that of the Supreme Being. He was called 
"the soul of the world," and supposed to have been 
its creator. He was depicted as a handsome man, en- 
dowed with perpetual youth. A year before the in- 
tended sacrifice, a captive, distinguished for his personal 
beauty, and without a blemish on his body, was selected 
to represent this deity. Certain tutors took charge of 
him, and instructed him how to perform his new part 
with becoming grace and dignity. He was arrayed in 
a splendid dress, regaled with incense and with a pro- 
fusion of sweet-scented flowers, of which the ancient 
Mexicans were as fond as their descendants at the 
present day. When he went abroad, he was attended 
by a train of the royal pages, and, as he halted in the 
streets to play some favorite melody, the crowd pros- 
trated themselves before him, and did him homage as 
the representative of their good deity. In this way he 
led an easy, luxurious life, till within a month of his 
sacrifice. Four beautiful girls, bearing the names of 
the principal goddesses, were then selected to share the 
honors of his bed ; and with them he continued to live 
in idle dalliance, feasted at the banquets of the principal 
nobles, who paid him all the honors of a divinity. 

At length the fatal day of sacrifice arrived. The 


term of his short-lived glories was at an end. He was 
stripped of his gaudy apparel, and bade adieu to the 
fair partners of his revelries. One of the royal barges 
transported him across the lake to a temple which rose 
on its margin, about a league from the city. Hither 
the inhabitants of the capital flocked, to witness the 
consummation of the ceremony. As the sad proces- 
sion wound up the sides of the pyramid, the unhappy 
victim threw away his gay chaplets of flowers, and broke 
in pieces the musical instruments with which he had 
solaced the hours of captivity. On the summit he was 
received by six priests, whose long and matted locks 
flowed disorderly over their sable robes, covered with 
hieroglyphic scrolls of mystic import. They led him 
to the sacrificial stone, a huge block of jasper, with its 
upper surface somewhat convex. On this the prisoner 
was stretched. Five priests secured his head and his 
limbs ; while the sixth, clad in a scarlet mantle, em- 
blematic of his bloody office, dexterously opened the 
breast of the wretched victim with a sharp razor of 
itzttt, — a volcanic substance, hard as flint, — and, in- 
serting his hand in the wound, tore out the palpitating 
heart. The minister of death, first holding this up 
towards the sun, an object of worship throughout Ana- 
huac, cast it at the feet of the deity to whom the temple 
was devoted, while the multitudes below prostrated 
themselves in humble adoration. The tragic story of 
this prisoner was expounded by the priests as the type 
of human destiny, which, brilliant in its commence- 
ment, too often closes in sorrow and disaster. 24 

■4 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 2, cap. 2, 5, 24, et alibi. — 
Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 3, lib. z, cap. 16. — Torquemada, Mo- 


Such was the form of human sacrifice usually prac- 
tised by the Aztecs. It was the same that often met 
the indignant eyes of the Europeans in their progress 
through the country, and from the dreadful doom of 
which they themselves were not exempted. There were, 
indeed, some occasions when preliminary tortures, of 
the most exquisite kind, — with which it is unnecessary 
to shock the reader, — were inflicted, but they always ter- 
minated with the bloody ceremony above described. It 
should be remarked, however, that such tortures were not 
the spontaneous suggestions of cruelty, as with the North 
American Indians, but were all rigorously prescribed 
in the Aztec ritual, and doubtless were often inflicted 
with the same compunctious visitings which a devout 
familiar of the Holy Office might at times experience 
in executing its stern decrees. 25 Women, as well as the 

narch. Ind., lib. 7, cap. 19 ; lib. 10, cap. 14. — Rel. d'un gentil' huomo, 
ap. Ramusio, torn. iii. fol. 307. — Acosta, lib. 5, cap. 9-21. — Carta del 
Lie. Zuazo, MS. — Relacion por el Regimiento de Vera Cruz (Julio, 
1519), MS. — Few readers, probably, will sympathize with the sentence 
of Torquemada, who concludes his tale of woe by coolly dismissing 
" the soul of the victim, to sleep with those of his false gods, in hell !" 
Lib. 10, cap. 23. 

2 S Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 2, cap. 10, 29. — Gomara, 
Cr6n., cap. 219, ap. Barcia, torn. ii. — Toribio, Hist, de los Indios, MS., 
Parte 1, cap. 6-11. — The reader will find a tolerably exact picture of 
the nature of these tortures in the twenty-first canto of the " Inferno." 
The fantastic creations of the Florentine poet were nearly realized, at 
the very time he was writing, by the barbarians of an unknown world. 
One sacrifice, of a less revolting character, deserves to be mentioned. 
The Spaniards called it the " gladiatorial sacrifice," and it may remind 
one of the bloody games of antiquity. A captive of distinction was 
sometimes furnished with arms, and brought against a number of 
Mexicans in succession. If he defeated them all, as did occasionally 
happen, he was allowed to escape. If vanquished, he was dragged to 


other sex, were sometimes reserved for sacrifice. On 
some occasions, particularly in seasons of drought, at 
the festival of the insatiable Tlaloc, the god of rain, 
children, for the most part infants, were offered up. 
As they were borne along in open litters, dressed in 
their festal robes, and decked with the fresh blossoms 
of spring, they moved the hardest heart to pity, though 
their cries were drowned in the wild chant of the 
priests, who read in their tears a favorable augury for 
their petition. These innocent victims were generally 
bought by the priests of parents who were poor, but 
who stifled the voice of nature, probably less at the 
suggestions of poverty than of a wretched superstition. 26 
The most loathsome part of the story — the manner 
in which the body of the sacrificed captive was disposed 
of — remains yet to be told. It was delivered to the 
warrior who had taken him in battle, and by him, after 
being dressed, was served up in an entertainment to his 
friends. This was not the coarse repast of famished 
cannibals, but a banquet teeming with»delicious bever- 
ages and delicate viands, prepared with art, and attended 
by both sexes, who, as we shall see hereafter, conducted 
themselves with all the decorum of civilized life. 
Surely, never were refinement and the extreme of bar- 
barism brought so closely in contact with each other. 27 

the block and sacrificed in the usual manner. The combat was fought 
on a huge circular stone, before the assembled capital. Sahagun, Hist, 
de Nueva-Espaiia, lib. 2, cap. 21. — Rel. d'un gen til' huomo, ap. 
Ramusio, torn. iii. fol. 305. 

26 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espaiia, lib. 2, cap. 1, 4, 21, et alibi. — 
Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 10, cap. 10. — Clavigero, Stor. del 
Messico, torn. ii. pp. 76, 82. 

*7 Carta del Lie. Zuazo, MS. — Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 7, 


Human sacrifices have been practised by many na- 
tions, not excepting the most polished nations of anti- 
quity ; 28 but never by any, on a scale to be compared 
with those in Anahuac. The amount of victims immo- 
lated on its accursed altars would stagger the faith of 
the least scrupulous believer. Scarcely any author 
pretends to estimate the yearly sacrifices throughout 
the empire at less than twenty thousand, and some 
carry the number as high as fifty thousand ! 29 

cap. 19. — Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 3, lib. 2, cap. 17. — Sahagun, 
Hist, de Nueva-Espafia, lib. 2, cap. 21, et alibi. — Toribio, Hist, de los 
Indios, MS., Parte 1, cap. 2. 

88 To say nothing of Egypt, where, notwithstanding the indications 
on the monuments, there is strong reason for doubting it. (Comp. 
Herodotus, Euterpe, sec. 45.) It was of frequent occurrence among 
the Greeks, as every schoolboy knows. In Rome, it was so common 
as to require to be interdicted by an express law, less than a hundred 
years before the Christian era, — a law recorded in a very honest strain 
of exultation by Pliny (Hist. Nat., lib. 30, sec. 3, 4) ; notwithstand- 
ing which, traces of the existence of the practice may be discerned 
to a much later period. See, among others, Horace, Epod., In 

=9 See Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. p. 49. — Bishop Zumar- 
raga, in a letter written a few years after the Conquest, states that 
20,000 victims were yearly slaughtered in the capital. Torquemada 
turns this into 20,000 infants. (Monarch. Ind.,lib. 7, cap. 21.) Herrera, 
following Acosta, says 20,000 victims on a specified day of the year, 
throughout the kingdom. (Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 2, cap. 16.) 
Clavigero, more cautious, infers that this number may have been 
sacrificed annually throughout Anahuac. (Ubi supra.) Las Casas, 
however, in his reply to Sepulveda's assertion, that no one who had 
visited the New World put the number of yearly sacrifices at less than 
20,000, declares that " this is the estimate of brigands, who wish to find 
an apology for their own atrocities, and that the real number was not 
above 50"! (OEuvres, ed. Llorente (Paris, 1822), torn. i. pp. 365, 
386.) Probably the good Bishop's arithmetic here, as in most other 
instances, came more from his heart than his head. With such loose 



On great occasions, as the coronation of a king or 
the consecration of a temple, the number becomes 
still more appalling. At the dedication of the great 
temple of Huitzilopochtli, in i486, the prisoners, who 
for some years had been reserved for the purpose, were 
drawn from all quarters to the capital. They were 
ranged in files, forming a procession nearly two miles 
long. The ceremony consumed several days, and 
seventy thousand captives are said to have perished at 
the shrine of this terrible deity ! But who can believe 
that so numerous a body would have suffered them- 
selves to be led unresistingly like sheep to the slaughter ? 
Or how could their remains, too great for consumption 
in the ordinary way, be disposed of, without breeding 
a pestilence in the capital? Yet the event was of 
recent date, and is unequivocally attested by the best- 
informed historians. 30 One fact may be considered 
certain. It was customary to preserve the skulls of the 
sacrificed, in buildings appropriated to the purpose. 
The companions of Cortes counted one hundred and 

and contradictory data, it is clear that any specific number is mere 
conjecture, undeserving the name of calculation. 

3° I am within bounds. Torquemada states the number, most pre- 
cisely, at 72,344 (Monarch. Ind., lib. 2, cap. 63) ; Ixtlilxochitl, with 
equal precision, at 80,400. (Hist. Chich., MS.) &Quiensabe? The 
latter adds that the captives massacred in the capital, in the course of 
that memorable year, exceeded 100,000 ! (Loc. cit.) One, however, 
has to read but a little way, to find out that the science of numbers 
— at least where the party was not an eyewitness — is anything but 
an exact science with these ancient chroniclers. The Codex Telleriano- 
Remensis, written some fifty years after the Conquest, reduces the 
amount to 20,000. (Antiq. of Mexico, vol. i. PI. 19 ; vol. vi. p. 141, 
Eng. note.) Even this hardly warrants the Spanish interpreter in 
calling king Ahuitzotl a man " of a mild and moderate disposition," 
templaday benigna condition 1 Ibid., vol. v. p. 49. 


thirty-six thousand in one of these edifices ! 31 Without 
attempting a precise calculation, therefore, it is safe to 
conclude that thousands were yearly offered up, in the 
different cities of Anahuac, on the bloody altars of the 
Mexican divinities. 33 

Indeed, the great object of war, with the Aztecs, 
was quite as much to gather victims for their sacrifices 
as to extend their empire. Hence it was that an enemy 
was never slain in battle, if there were a chance of 
taking him alive. To this circumstance the Spaniards 
repeatedly owed their preservation. When Montezuma 
was asked " why he had suffered the republic of Tlas- 
cala to maintain her independence on his borders," he 
replied, "that she might furnish him with victims for 
his gods " ! As the supply began to fail, the priests, 
the Dominicans of the New World, bellowed aloud for 
more, and urged on their superstitious sovereign by 
the denunciations of celestial wrath. Like the militant 
churchmen of Christendom in the Middle Ages, they 
mingled themselves in the ranks, and were conspicuous 
in the thickest of the fight, by their hideous aspect and 
frantic gestures. Strange, that, in every country, the 

31 Gomara states the number on the authority of two soldiers, whose 
names he gives, who took the trouble to count the grinning horrors 
in one of these Golgothas, where they were so arranged as to produce 
the most hideous effect. The existence of these conservatories is 
attested by every writer of the time. 

3» The " Anonymous Conqueror" assures us, as a fact beyond dis- 
pute, that the Devil introduced himself into the bodies of the idols, 
and persuaded the silly priests that his only diet was human hearts 1 
It furnishes a very satisfactory solution, to his mind, cf the frequency 
of sacrifices in Mexico. Rel. d'un gentil' huomo, ar. Ramusio, torn, 
jii. fol. 307. 



most fiendish passions of the human heart have been 
those kindled in the name of religion ! 33 

The influence of these practices on the Aztec char- 
acter was as disastrous as might have been expected. 
Familiarity with the bloody rites of sacrifice steeled 
the heart against human sympathy, and begat a thirst 
for carnage, like that excited in the Romans by the 
exhibitions of the circus. The perpetual recurrence 
of ceremonies, in which the people took part, asso- 
ciated religion with their most intimate concerns, and 
spread the gloom of superstition over the domestic 
hearth, until the character of the nation wore a grave 
and even melancholy aspect, which belongs to their 
descendants at the present day. The influence of the 
priesthood, of course, became unbounded. The sov- 
ereign thought himself honored by being permitted to 
assist in the services of the temple. Far from limiting 
the authority of the priests to spiritual matters, he 
often surrendered his opinion to theirs, where they 

33 The Tezcucan priests would fain have persuaded the good king 
Nezahualcoyotl, on occasion of a pestilence, to appease the gods by 
the sacrifice of some of his own subjects, instead of his enemies ; on 
the ground that they would not only be obtained more easily, but 
would be fresher victims, and more acceptable. (Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. 
Chich., MS., cap. 41.) This writer mentions a cool arrangement 
entered into by the allied monarchs with the republic of Tlascala and 
her confederates. A battle-field was marked out, on which the troops 
of the hostile nations were to engage at stated seasons, and thus supply 
themselves with subjects for sacrifice. The victorious party was not 
to pursue his advantage by invading the other's territory, and they 
were to continue, in all other respects, on the most amicable footing. 
(Ubi supra.) The historian, who follows in the track of the Tezcucan 
Chronicler, may often find occasion to shelter himself, like Ariosto, 

"Mettendolo Turpin, lo metto anch' io." 

Vol. I. 8 


were least competent to give it. It was their opposi- 
tion that prevented the final capitulation which would 
have saved the capital. The whole nation, from the 
peasant to the prince, bowed their necks to the worst 
kind of tyranny, that of a blind fanaticism. 

In reflecting on the revolting usages recorded in the 
preceding pages, one finds it difficult to reconcile their 
existence with anything like a regular form of govern- 
ment, or an advance in civilization. 34 Yet the Mex- 

34 [Don Jose F. Ramirez, the distinguished Mexican scholar, has 
made this sentence the text for a disquisition of fifty pages or more, 
one object of which is to show that the existence of human sacrifices 
is not irreconcilable with an advance in civilization. This leads him 
into an argument of much length, covering a broad range of historical 
inquiry, and displaying much learning as well as a careful considera- 
tion of the subject. In one respect, however, he has been led into an 
important error by misunderstanding the drift of my remarks, where, 
speaking of cannibalism, I say, " It is impossible the people who 
practise it should make any great progress in moral or intellectual 
culture" (p. 88). This observation, referring solely to cannibalism, 
the critic cites as if applied by me to human sacrifices. Whatever 
force, therefore, his reasoning may have in respect to the latter, it 
cannot be admitted to apply to the former. The distance is wide 
between human sacrifices and cannibalism ; though Senor Ramirez 
diminishes this distance by regarding both one and the other simply 
as religious exercises, springing from the devotional principle in our 
nature.* He enforces his views by a multitude of examples from 
history, which show how extensively these revolting usages of the 
Aztecs — on a much less gigantic scale indeed — have been practised 
by the primitive races of the Old World, some of whom, at a later 
period, made high advances in civilization. Ramirez, Notas y Escla- 

* [The practice of eating, or tasting, the victim has been generally- 
associated with sacrifice, from the idea either of the sacredness of the 
offering or of the deity's accepting the soul, the immaterial part, or the 
blood as containing the principle of life, and leaving the flesh to his 
worshippers. — Ed.] 


icans had many claims to the character of a civilized 
community. One may, perhaps, better understand 
the anomaly, by reflecting on the condition of some 
of the most polished countries in Europe, in the six- 
teenth century, after the establishment of the modern 
Inquisition, — an institution which yearly destroyed its 
thousands, by a death more painful than the Aztec 
sacrifices ; which armed the hand of brother against 
brother, and, setting its burning seal upon the lip, did 
more to stay the march of improvement than any other 
scheme ever devised by human cunning. 

Human sacrifice, however cruel, has nothing in it 
degrading to its victim. It may be rather said to 
ennoble him by devoting him to the gods. Although 
• so terrible with the Aztecs, it was sometimes volun- 
tarily embraced by them, as the most glorious death 
and one that opened a sure passage into paradise. 33 
The Inquisition, on the other hand, branded its vic- 
tims with infamy in this world, and consigned them to 
everlasting perdition in the next. 

One detestable feature of the Aztec superstition, 
however, sunk it far below the Christian. This was 
its cannibalism ; though, in truth, the Mexicans were 
not cannibals in the coarsest acceptation of the term. 
They did not feed on human flesh merely to gratify a 

recimientos a la Historia del Conquista de Mexico del Sefior W. 
Prescott, appended to Navarro's translation.] 

33 Rel. d'un gentil' huomo, ap. Ramusio, torn. iii. fol. 307. — Among 
other instances is that of Chimalpopoca, third king of Mexico, who 
doomed himself, with a number of his lords, to this death, to wipe 
off an indignity offered him by a brother monarch. (Torquemada, 
Monarch. Ind., lib. 2, cap. 28.) This was the law of honor with the 


brutish appetite, but in obedience to their religion. 
Their repasts were made of the victims whose blood 
had been poured out on the altar of sacrifice. This is 
a distinction worthy of notice. 36 Still, cannibalism, 
under any form or whatever sanction, cannot but have 
a fatal influence on the nation addicted to it. It sug- 
gests ideas so loathsome, so degrading to man, to his 
spiritual and immortal nature, that it is impossible the 
people who practise it should make any great progress 
in moral or intellectual culture. The Mexicans furnish 
no exception to this remark. The civilization which 
they possessed descended from the Toltecs, a race who 
never stained their altars, still less their banquets, with 
the blood of man. 37 All that deserved the name of 
science in Mexico came from this source; and the 
crumbling ruins of edifices attributed to them, still 
extant in various parts of New Spain, show a decided 
superiority in their architecture over that of the later 

3 s Voltaire, doubtless, intends this, when he says, " lis n'etaient 
point anthropophages, comme un tres-petit nombre de peuplades 
Americaines." (Essai sur les Mosurs, chap. 147.) 

37 [The remark in the text admits of some qualification. According 
to an ancient Tezcucan chronicler, quoted by Sefior Ramirez, the 
Toltecs celebrated occasionally the worship of the god Tlaloc with 
human sacrifices. The most important of these was the offering up 
once a year of five or six maidens, who were immolated in the usual 
horrid way of tearing out their hearts. It does not appear that the 
Toltecs consummated the sacrifice by devouring the flesh of the victim. 
This seems to have been the only exception to the blameless character 
of the Toltec rites. Tlaloc was the oldest deity in the Aztec mythol- 
ogy, in which he found a suitable place. Yet, as the knowledge of him 
was originally derived from the Toltecs, it cannot be denied that this 
people, as Ramirez says, possessed in their peculiar civilization the 
germs of those sanguinary institutions which existed on so appalling a 
scale in Mexico. See Ramirez, Notas y Esclarecimientos, ubi supra.] 


races of Anahuac. It is true, the Mexicans made great 
proficiency in many of the social and mechanic arts, 
in that material culture, — if I may so call it, — the 
natural growth of increasing opulence, which ministers 
to the gratification of the senses. In purely intel- 
lectual progress they were behind the Tezcucans, whose 
wise sovereigns came into the abominable rites of 
their neighbors with reluctance and practised them on 
a much more moderate scale. 38 

In this state of things, it was beneficently ordered 
by Providence that the land should be delivered over 
to another race, who would rescue it from the brutish 
superstitions that daily extended wider and wider with 
extent of empire. 39 The debasing institutions of the 
Aztecs furnish the best apology for their conquest. It 
is true, the conquerors brought along with them the 
Inquisition. But they also brought Christianity, whose 
benign radiance would still survive when the fierce 
flames of fanaticism should be extinguished ; dispelling 
those dark forms of horror which had so long brooded 
over the fair regions of Anahuac. 

38 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 45, et alibi. 

39 No doubt the ferocity of character engendered by their sangui- 
nary rites greatly facilitated their conquests. Machiavelli attributes to 
a similar cause, in part, the military successes of the Romans. (Dis- 
corsi sopra T. Livio, lib. 2, cap. 2.) The same chapter contains some 
ingenious reflections — much more ingenious than candid — on the 
opposite tendencies of Christianity. 

The most important authority in the preceding chapter, and, in- 
deed, wherever the Aztec religion is concerned, is Bernardino de 
Sahagun, a Franciscan friar, contemporary with the Conquest. His 
great work, Historia universal de Nueva-Espana, has been recently 
printed for the first time. The circumstances attending its compila- 



lion and subsequent fate form one of the most remarkable passages 
in literary history. 

Sahagun was born in a place of the same name, in old Spain. He 
was educated at Salamanca, and, having taken the vows of St. Fran- 
cis, came over as a missionary to Mexico in the year 1529. Here he 
distinguished himself by his zeal, the purity of his life, and his un- 
wearied exertions to spread the great truths of religion among the 
natives. He was the guardian of several conventual houses, succes- 
sively, until he relinquished these cares, that he might devote himself 
more unreservedly to the business of preaching, and of compiling 
various works designed to illustrate the antiquities of the Aztecs. For 
these literary labors he found some facilities in the situation which he 
continued to occupy, of reader, or lecturer, in the College of Santa 
Cruz, in the capital. 

The " Universal History" was concocted in a singular manner. In 
order to secure to it the greatest possible authority, he passed some 
years in a Tezcucan town, where he conferred daily with a number 
of respectable natives unacquainted with Castilian. He propounded 
to them queries, which they, after deliberation, answered in their 
usual method of writing, by hieroglyphical paintings. These he sub- 
mitted to other natives, who had been educated under his own eye in 
the College of Santa Cruz ; and the latter, after a consultation among 
themselves, gave a written version, in the Mexican tongue, of the 
hieroglyphics. This process he repeated in another place, in some 
part of Mexico, and subjected the whole to a still further revision by 
a third body in another quarter. He finally arranged the combined 
results into a regular history, in the form it now bears ; composing it 
in the Mexican language, which he could both write and speak with 
great accuracy and elegance, — greater, indeed, than any Spaniard of 
the time. 

The work presented a mass of curious information, that attracted 
much attention among his brethren. But they feared its influence in 
keeping alive in the natives a too vivid reminiscence of the very super- 
stitions which it was the great object of the Christian clergy to eradi- 
cate. Sahagun had views more liberal than those of his order, whose 
blind zeal would willingly have annihilated every monument of art 
and human ingenuity which had not been produced under the influ- 
ence of Christianity. They refused to allow him the necessary aid to 
transcribe his papers, which he had been so many years in preparing, 
under the pretext that the expense was too great for their order to incur. 


9 r 

This occasioned a further delay of several years. What was worse, 
his provincial got possession of his manuscripts, which were soon 
scattered among the different religious houses in the country. 

In this forlorn state of his affairs, Sahagun drew up a brief state- 
ment of the nature and contents of his work, and forwarded it to 
Madrid. It fell into the hands of Don Juan de Ovando, president of 
the Council for the Indies, who was so much interested in it that he 
ordered the manuscripts to be restored to their author, with the re- 
quest that he would at once set about translating them into Castilian. 
This was accordingly done. His papers were recovered, though not 
without the menace of ecclesiastical censures ; and the octogenarian 
author began the work of translation from the Mexican, in which they 
had been originally written by him thirty years before. He had the 
satisfaction to complete the task, arranging the Spanish version in a 
parallel column with the original, and adding a vocabulary, explaining 
the difficult Aztec terms and phrases ; while the text was supported by 
the numerous paintings on which it was founded. In this form, making 
two bulky volumes in folio, it was sent to Madrid. There seemed now 
to be no further reason for postponing its publication, the importance 
of which could not be doubted. But from this moment it disappears ; 
and we hear nothing further of it, for more than two centuries, except 
only as a valuable work, which had once existed and was probably 
buried in some one of the numerous cemeteries of learning in which 
Spain abounds. 

At length, towards the close of the last century, the indefatigable 
Munoz succeeded in disinterring the long-lost manuscript from the 
place tradition had assigned to it, — the library of a convent at Tolosa, 
in Navarre, the northern extremity of Spain. With his usual ardor, 
he transcribed the whole work with his own hands, and added it to the 
inestimable collection, of which, alas ! he was destined not to reap the 
full benefit himself. From this transcript Lord Kingsborough was 
enabled to procure the copy which was published in 1830, in the sixth 
volume of his magnificent compilation. In it he expresses an honest 
satisfaction at being the first to give Sahagun's work to the world. 
But in this supposition he was mistaken. The very year preceding, 
an edition of it, with annotations, appeared in Mexico, in three vol- 
umes octavo. It was prepared by Bustamante, — a scholar to whose 
editorial activity his country is largely indebted, — from a copy of the 
MuSoz manuscript which came into his possession. Thus this re- 
markable work, which was denied the honors of the press during the 


author's lifetime, after passing into oblivion, reappeared, at the distance 
of nearly three centuries, not in his own country, but in foreign lands 
widely remote from each other, and that almost simultaneously. The 
story is extraordinary, though unhappily not so extraordinary in Spain 
as it would be elsewhere. 

Sahagun divided his history into twelve books. The first eleven 
are occupied with the social institutions of Mexico, and the last with 
the Conquest. On the religion of the country he is particularly full. 
His great object evidently was, to give a clear view of its mythology, 
and of the burdensome ritual which belonged to it. Religion entered 
so intimately into the most private concerns and usages of the Aztecs, 
that Sahagun's work must be a text-book for every student of their 
antiquities. Torquemada availed himself of a manuscript copy, which 
fell into his hands before it was sent to Spain, to enrich his own pages, 
— a circumstance more fortunate for his readers than for Sahagun's 
reputation, whose work, now that it is published, loses much of the 
originality and interest which would otherwise attach to it. In one 
respect it is invaluable ; as presenting a complete collection of the 
various forms of prayer, accommodated to every possible emergency, 
in use by the Mexicans. They are often clothed in dignified and beau- 
tiful language, showing that sublime speculative tenets are quite com- 
patible with the most degrading practices of superstition. It is much to 
be regretted that we have not the eighteen hymns inserted by the author 
in his book, which would have particular interest, as the only specimen 
of devotional poetry preserved of the Aztecs. The hieroglyphical 
paintings, which accompanied the text, are also missing. If they have 
escaped the hands of fanaticism, both may reappear at some future 

Sahagun produced several other works, of a religious or philologi- 
cal character. Some of these were voluminous, but none have been 
printed. He lived to a very advanced age, closing a life of activity 
and usefulness, in 1590, in the capital of Mexico. His remains were 
followed to the tomb by a numerous concourse of his own country- 
men, and of the natives, who lamented in him the loss of unaffected 
piety, benevolence, and learning. 



It is a relief to turn from the gloomy pages of the 
preceding chapter to a brighter side of the picture, 
and to contemplate the same nation in its generous 
struggle to raise itself from a state of barbarism and to 
take a positive rank in the scale of civilization. It is 
not the less interesting, that these efforts were made on 
an entirely new theatre of action, apart from those in- 
fluences that operate in the Old World ; the inhabitants 
of which, forming one great brotherhood of nations, 
are knit together by sympathies that make the faintest 
spark of knowledge, struck out in one quarter, spread 
gradually wider and wider, until it has diffused a cheering 
light over the remotest. It is curious to observe the 
human mind, in this new position, conforming to the 
same laws as on the ancient continent, and taking a sim- 
ilar direction in its first inquiries after truth, — so similar, 
indeed, as, although not warranting, perhaps, the idea 
of imitation, to suggest at least that of a common origin. 

In the Eastern hemisphere we find some nations, as 
the Greeks, for instance, early smitten with such a love 
of the beautiful as to be unwilling to dispense with it 
even in the graver productions of science ; and other 
nations, again, proposing a severer end to themselves, 




to which even imagination and elegant art were made 
subservient. The productions of such a people must 
be criticised, not by the ordinary rules of taste, but 
by their adaptation to the peculiar end for which they 
were designed. Such were the Egyptians in the Old 
World, 1 and the Mexicans in the New. We have 
already had occasion to notice the resemblance borne 
by the latter nation to the former in their religious 
economy. We shall be more struck with it in their 
scientific culture, especially their hieroglyphical writing 
and their astronomy. 

To describe actions and events by delineating visible 
objects seems to be a natural suggestion, and is practised, 
after a certain fashion, by the rudest savages. The North 
American Indian carves an arrow on the bark of trees 
to show his followers the direction of his march, and 
some other sign to show the success of his expeditions. 
But to paint intelligibly a consecutive series of these 
actions — forming what Warburton has happily called 
picture-writing' 1 — requires a combination of ideas that 
amounts to a positively intellectual effort. Yet further, 
when the object of the painter, instead of being limited 

1 "An Egyptian temple," says Denon, strikingly, "is an open vol- 
ume, in which the teachings of science, morality, and the arts are 
recorded. Every thing seems to speak one and the same language, 
and breathes one and the same spirit." The passage is cited by 
Heeren, Hist. Res., vol. v. p. 178. 

8 Divine Legation, ap. Works (London, 1811), vol. iv. b. 4, sec. 4. 
— The Bishop of Gloucester, in his comparison of the various hiero- 
glyphical systems of the world, shows his characteristic sagacity and 
boldness by announcing opinions little credited then, though since 
established. He affirmed the existence of an Egyptian alphabet, but 
was not aware of the phonetic property of hieroglyphics, — the great 
literary discovery of our age. 



to the present, is to penetrate the past, and to gather 
from its dark recesses lessons of instruction for coming 
generations, we see the dawnings of a literary culture, 
and recognize the proof of a decided civilization in 
the attempt itself, however imperfectly it may be exe- 
cuted. The literal imitation of objects will not answer 
for this more complex and extended plan. It would 
occupy too much space, as well as time in the execu- 
tion. It then becomes necessary to abridge the pictures, 
to confine the drawing to outlines, or to such prominent 
parts of the bodies delineated as may readily suggest 
the whole. This is the representative or figurative 
writing, which forms the lowest stage of hieroglyphics. 

But there are things which have no type in the 
material world ; abstract ideas, which can only be 
represented by visible objects supposed to have some 
quality analogous to the idea intended. This con- 
stitutes symbolical writing, the most difficult of all to 
the interpreter, since the analogy between the material 
and immaterial object is often purely fanciful, or local 
in its application. Who, for instance, could suspect 
the association which made a beetle represent the uni- 
verse, as with the Egyptians, or a serpent typify time, 
as with the Aztecs ? 

The third and last division is the phonetic, in which 
signs are made to represent sounds, either entire words, 
or parts of them. This is the nearest approach of the 
hieroglyphical series to that beautiful invention, the 
alphabet, by which language is resolved into its ele- 
mentary sounds, and an apparatus supplied for easily 
and accurately expressing the most delicate shades of 


The Egyptians were well skilled in all three kinds 
of hieroglyphics. But, although their public monu- 
ments display the first class, in their ordinary inter- 
course and written records it is now certain that they 
almost wholly relied on the phonetic character. Strange 
that, having thus broken down the thin partition which 
divided them from an alphabet, their latest monuments 
should exhibit no nearer approach to it than their 
earliest. 3 The Aztecs, also, were acquainted with the 
several varieties of hieroglyphics. But they relied on 
the figurative infinitely more than on the others. The 
Egyptians were at the top of the scale, the Aztecs at 
the bottom. 

In casting the eye over a Mexican manuscript, or 
map, as it is called, one is struck with the grotesque 
caricatures it exhibits of the human figure ; monstrous, 
overgrown heads, on puny, misshapen bodies, which 
are themselves hard and angular in their outlines, and 
without the least skill in composition. On closer 
inspection, however, it is obvious that it is not so 
much a rude attempt to delineate nature, as a conven- 
tional symbol, to express the idea in the most clear 
and forcible manner ; in the same way as the pieces 

3 It appears that the hieroglyphics on the most recent monuments 
of Egypt contain no larger infusion of phonetic characters than those 
which existed eighteen centuries before Christ ; showing no advance, 
in this respect, for twenty-two hundred years ! (See Champollion, 
Precis du Systeme hieroglyphique des anciens Egyptiens (Paris, 1824), 
pp. 242, 281.) It may seem more strange that the enchorial alphabet, 
so much more commodious, should not have been substituted. But 
the Egyptians were familiar with their hieroglyphics from infancy, 
which, moreover, took the fancies of the most illiterate, probably in 
the same manner as our children are attracted and taught by the 
picture-alphabets in an ordinary spelling-book. 



of similar value on a chess-board, while they corre- 
spond with one another in form, bear little resemblance, 
usually, to the objects they represent. Those parts 
of the figure are most distinctly traced which are the 
most important. So, also, the coloring, instead of the 
delicate gradations of nature, exhibits only gaudy and 
violent contrasts, such as may produce the most vivid 
impression. "For even colors," as Gama observes, 
"speak in the Aztec hieroglyphics." 4 

But in the execution of all this the Mexicans were 
much inferior to the Egyptians. The drawings of the 
latter, indeed, are exceedingly defective, when criti- 
cised by the rules of art ; for they were as ignorant of 
perspective as the Chinese, and only exhibited the 
head in profile, with the eye in the centre, and with 
total absence of expression. But they handled the 
pencil more gracefully than the Aztecs, were more 
true to the natural forms of objects, and, above all, 
showed great superiority in abridging the original 
figure by giving only the outline, or some character- 
istic or essential feature. This simplified the process, 
and facilitated the communication of thought. An 
Egyptian text has almost the appearance of alphabet- 
ical writing in its regular lines of minute figures. A 
Mexican text looks usually like a collection of pictures, 
each one forming the subject of a separate study. This 
is particularly the case with the delineations of mythol- 
ogy ; in which the story is told by a conglomeration 
of symbols, that may remind one more of the mys- 

♦ Description hist6rica y crono!6gica de las Dos Piedras (Mexico, 
1832), Parte 2, p. 39. 

Vol. I. — e 9 


terious anaglyphs sculptured on the temples of the 
Egyptians, than of their written records. 

The Aztecs had various emblems for expressing 
such things as, from their nature, could not be di- 
rectly represented by the painter ; as, for example, the 
years, months, days, the seasons, the elements, the 
heavens, and the like. A "tongue" denoted speak- 
ing ; a " footprint," travelling ; a "man sitting on the 
ground," an earthquake. These symbols were often 
very arbitrary, varying with the caprice of the writer ; 
and it requires a nice discrimination to interpret them, 
as a slight change in the form or position of the figure 
intimated a very different meaning. 3 An ingenious 
writer asserts that the priests devised secret symbolic 
characters for the record of their religious mysteries. 
It is possible. But the researches of Champollion lead 
to the conclusion that the similar opinion formerly 
entertained respecting the Egyptian hieroglyphics is 
without foundation. 6 

Lastly, they employed, as above stated, phonetic 

5 Gama, Descripcion, Parte 2, pp. 32, 44. — Acosta, lib. 6, cap. 7. — 
The continuation of Gama's work, recently edited by Bustamante, in 
Mexico, contains, among other things, some interesting remarks on the 
Aztec hieroglyphics. The editor has rendered a good service by this 
further publication of the writings of this estimable scholar, who has 
done more than any of his countrymen to explain the mysteries of 
Aztec science. 

6 Gama, Descripcion, Parte 2, p. 32. — Warburton, with his usual 
penetration, rejects the idea of mystery in the figurative hieroglyphics. 
(Divine Legation, b. 4, sec. 4.) If there was any mystery reserved 
for the initiated, Champollion thinks it may have been the system of 
the anaglyphs. (Precis, p. 360.) Why may not this be true, likewise, 
of the monstrous symbolical combinations which represented the 
Mexican deities ? 



signs, though these were chiefly confined to the names 
of persons and places ; which, being derived from some 
circumstance or characteristic quality, were accom- 
modated to the hieroglyphical system. Thus, the town 
Cimatlan was compounded of cimatl> a " root," which 
grew near it, and tlan, signifying "near;" Tlaxcallan 
meant "the place of bread," from its rich fields of 
corn ; Huexotzinco, "a place surrounded by willows." 
The names of persons were often significant of their 
adventures and achievements. That of the great Tez- 
cucan prince Nezahualcoyotl signified "hungry fox," 
intimating his sagacity, and his distresses in early life. 7 
The emblems of such names were no sooner seen, than 
they suggested to every Mexican the person and place 
intended, and, when painted on their shields or em- 
broidered on their banners, became the armorial bear- 
ings by which city and chieftain were distinguished, as 
in Europe in the age of chivalry. 8 

But, although the Aztecs were instructed in all the 
varieties of hieroglyphical painting, they chiefly re- 
sorted to the clumsy method of direct representation. 
Had their empire lasted, like the Egyptian, several 
thousand years, instead of the brief space of two hun- 
dred, they would doubtless, like them, have advanced 

7 Boturini, Idea, pp. 77-83. — Gama, Description, Parte 2, pp. 34- 
43. — Heeren is not aware, or does not allow, that the Mexicans used 
phonetic characters of any kind. (Hist. Res., vol. v. p. 45.) They, 
indeed, reversed the usual order of proceeding, and, instead of adapt- 
ing the hieroglyphic to the name of the object, accommodated the 
name of the object to the hieroglyphic. This, of course, could not 
admit of great extension. We find phonetic characters, however, 
applied in some instances to common as well as proper names. 

8 Boturini, Idea, ubi supra. 


to the more frequent use of the phonetic writing. But, 
before they could be made acquainted with the capa- 
bilities of their own system, the Spanish Conquest, 
by introducing the European alphabet, supplied their 
scholars with a more perfect contrivance for expressing 
thought, which soon supplanted the ancient pictorial 
character. 9 

Clumsy as it was, however, the Aztec picture-writing 
seems to have been adequate to the demands of the 
nation, in their imperfect state of civilization. By 
means of it were recorded all their laws, and even their 
regulations for domestic economy; their tribute-rolls, 
specifying the imposts of the various towns; their 
mythology, calendars, and rituals; their political an- 
nals, carried back to a period long before the founda- 
tion of the city. They digested a complete system of 
chronology, and could specify with accuracy the dates 
of the most important events in their history ; the year 
being inscribed on the margin, against the particular 
circumstance recorded. It is true, history, thus exe- 
cuted, must necessarily be vague and fragmentary. 
Only a few leading incidents could be presented. But 
in this it did not differ much from the monkish chron- 
icles of the dark ages, which often dispose of years 
in a few brief sentences, — quite long enough for the 
annals of barbarians." 

9 Clavigero has given a catalogue of the Mexican historians of the 
sixteenth century, — some of whom are often cited in this history, — 
which bears honorable testimony to the literary ardor and intelligence 
of the native races. Stor. del Messico, torn, i., Pref. — Also, Gama, 
Descripcion, Parte i, passim. 

10 M. de Humboldt's remark, that the Aztec annals, from the close 
of the eleventh century, " exhibit the greatest method and astonish- 


In order to estimate aright the picture-writing of the 
Aztecs, one must regard it in connection with oral 
tradition, to which it was auxiliary. In the colleges 
of the priests the youth were instructed in astronomy, 
history, mythology, etc. ; and those who were to fol- 
low the profession of hieroglyphical painting were 
taught the application of the characters appropriated 
to each of these branches. In an historical work, one 
had charge of the chronology, another of the events. 
Every part of the labor was thus mechanically distrib- 
uted." The pupils, instructed in all that was before 
known in their several departments, were prepared to 
extend still further the boundaries of their imperfect 
science. The hieroglyphics served as a sort of stenog- 
raphy, a collection of notes, suggesting to the initiated 

ing minuteness" (Vues des Cordilleres, p. 137), must be received with 
some qualification. The reader would scarcely understand from it 
that there are rarely more than one or two facts recorded in any year, 
and sometimes not one in a dozen or more. The necessary looseness 
and uncertainty of these historical records are made apparent by the 
remarks of the Spanish interpreter of the Mendoza Codex, who tells 
us that the natives, to whom it was submitted, were very long in coming 
to an agreement about the proper signification of the paintings. Antiq. 
of Mexico, vol. vi. p. 87. 

" Gama, Descripcion, Parte 2, p. 30. — Acosta, lib. 6, cap. 7. — ■ 
" Tenian para cada genero," says Ixtlilxochid, " sus Escritores, unos que 
trataban de los Anales, poniendo por su orden las cosas que acaecian 
en cada un ano, con dia, mes, y hora ; otros tenian i. su cargo las 
Genealogias, y descendencia de los Reyes, Senores, y Personas de 
linaje, asentando por cuenta y razon los que nacian, y borraban los 
que morian con la misma cuenta. Unos tenian cuidado de las pintu- 
ras, de los terminos, limites, y mojoneras de las Ciudades, Provincias, 
Pueblos, y Lugares, y de las suertes, y repartimiento de las tierras 
cuyas eran, y i. quien pertenecian ; otros de los libros de Leyes, ritos, 
y ceremonias que usaban." Hist. Chich., MS., Prologo. 


much more than could be conveyed by a literal inter- 
pretation. This combination of the written and the 
oral comprehended what may be called the literature 
of the Aztecs." 

Their manuscripts were made of different materials, 
— of cotton cloth, or skins nicely prepared ; of a com- 
position of silk and gum ; but, for the most part, of a 
fine fabric from the leaves of the aloe, agave Americana, 
called by the natives maguey, which grows luxuriantly 
over the table-lands of Mexico. A sort of paper was 
made from it, resembling somewhat the Egyptian 
papyrus, 13 which, when properly dressed and polished, 
is said to have been more soft and beautiful than 
parchment. Some of the specimens, still existing, 
exhibit their original freshness, and the paintings on 

13 According to Boturini, the ancient Mexicans were acquainted 
with the Peruvian method of recording events by means of the quip- 
pus, — knotted strings of various colors, — which were afterwards super- 
seded by hieroglyphical painting. (Idea, p. 86.) He could discover, 
however, but a single specimen, which he met with in Tlascala, and 
that had nearly fallen to pieces with age. McCulloh suggests that it 
may have been only a wampum belt, such as is common among our 
North American Indians. (Researches, p. 201.) The conjecture is 
plausible enough. Strings of wampum, of various colors, were used 
by the latter people for the similar purpose of registering events. The 
insulated fact, recorded by Boturini, is hardly sufficient — unsupported, 
so far as I know, by any other testimony — to establish the existence 
of quippus among the Aztecs, who had but little in common with the 

J 3 Pliny, who gives a minute account of the papyrus reed of Egypt, 
notices the various manufactures obtained from it, as ropes, cloth, 
paper, etc. It also served as a thatch for the roofs of houses, and as 
food and drink for the natives. (Hist. Nat., lib. 11, cap. 20-22.) It 
is singular that the American agave, a plant so totally different, should 
also have been applied to all these various uses. 


them retain their brilliancy of colors. They were 
sometimes done up into rolls, but more frequently into 
volumes, of moderate size, in which the paper was 
shut up, like a folding screen, with a leaf or tablet of 
wood at each extremity, that gave the whole, when 
closed, the appearance of a book. The length of the 
strips was determined only by convenience. As the 
pages might be read and referred to separately, this 
form had obvious advantages over the rolls of the 
ancients. 14 

At the time of the arrival of the Spaniards, great 
quantities of these manuscripts were treasured up in 
the country. Numerous persons were employed in 
painting, and the dexterity of their operations excited 
the astonishment of the Conquerors. Unfortunately, 
this was mingled with other and unworthy feelings. 
The strange, unknown characters inscribed on them 
excited suspicion. They were looked on as magic 
scrolls, and were regarded in the same light with the 
idols and temples, as the symbols of a pestilent super- 
stition, that must be extirpated. The first archbishop 
of Mexico, Don Juan de Zumarraga, — a name that 
should be as immortal as that of Omar, — collected 

M Lorenzana, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, p. 8. — Boturini, Idea, p. 96. 
— Humboldt, Vues des Cordilleres, p. 52. — Peter Martyr Anglerius, 
De Orbe Novo (Compluti, 1530), dec. 3, cap. 8; dec. 5, cap. 10. — 
Martyr has given a minute description of the Indian maps sent home 
soon after the invasion of New Spain. His inquisitive mind was struck 
with the evidence they afforded of a positive civilization. Ribera, the 
friend of Cortes, brought back a story that the paintings were designed 
as patterns for embroiderers and jewellers. But Martyr had been in 
Egypt, and he felt little hesitation in placing the Indian drawings in 
the same class with those he had seen on the obelisks and temples of 
that country. 



these paintings from every quarter, especially from 
Tezcuco, the most cultivated capital in Anahuac, and 
the great depository of the national archives. He then 
caused them to be piled up in a " mountain -heap " — 
as it is called by the Spanish writers themselves — in 
the market-place of Tlatelolco, and reduced them all 
to ashes ! ,s His greater countryman, Archbishop Xi- 
menes, had celebrated a similar auto-da-fe of Arabic 
manuscripts, in Granada, some twenty years before. 
Never did fanaticism achieve two more signal triumphs 
than by the annihilation of so many curious monuments 
of human ingenuity and learning ! l6 

The unlettered soldiers were not slow in imitating 
the example of their prelate. Every chart and volume 
which fell into their hands was wantonly destroyed ; 
so that, when the scholars of a later and more en- 
lightened age anxiously sought to recover some of 
these memorials of civilization, nearly all had perished, 
and the few surviving were jealously hidden by the 

»s Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., Prdlogo.— Idem, Sum. Relac, 
MS. — ["The name of Zumarraga," says Senor Alaman, "has other 
and very different titles to immortality from that mentioned by Mr. 
Prescott, — titles founded on his virtues and apostolic labors, especially 
on the fervid zeal with which he defended the natives and the manifold 
benefits he secured to them. The loss that history suffered by the 
destruction of the Indian manuscripts by the missionaries has been in 
a great measure repaired by the writings of the missionaries them- 
selves." Conquista de Mejico (trad, de Vega), torn. i. p. 60.] — Writers 
are not agreed whether the conflagration took place in the square of 
Tlatelolco or Tezcuco. Comp. Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. 
p. 188, and Bustamante's Pref. to Ixtlilxochitl, Cruautes des Con- 
querans, trad, de Ternaux, p. xvii. 

16 It has been my lot to record both these displays of human in- 
firmity, so humbling to the pride of intellect. See the History of 
Ferdinand and Isabella, Part 2, chap. 6. 


x <>5 

natives. 17 Through the indefatigable labors of a pri- 
vate individual, however, a considerable collection was 
eventually deposited in the archives of Mexico, but 
was so little heeded there that some were plundered, 
others decayed piecemeal from the damps and mildews, 
and others, again, were used up as waste paper ! ,8 We 
contemplate with indignation the cruelties inflicted by 
the early conquerors. But indignation is qualified 
with contempt when we see them thus ruthlessly tram- 
pling out the spark of knowledge, the common boon 
and property of all mankind. We may well doubt 
which has the stronger claim to civilization, the victor 
or the vanquished. 

A few of the Mexican manuscripts have found their 
way, from time to time, to Europe, and are carefully 
preserved in the public libraries of its capitals. They 
are brought together in the magnificent work of Lord 
Kingsborough ; but not one is there from Spain. The 
most important of them, for the light it throws on the 
Aztec institutions, is the Mendoza Codex; which, after 
its mysterious disappearance for more than a century, 
has at length reappeared in the Bodleian Library at 
Oxford. It has been several times engraved. 19 The 

*7 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 10, cap. 27. — Bustamante, 
Mananas de Alameda (Mexico, 1836), torn, ii., Prologo. 

18 Very many of the documents thus painfully amassed in the 
archives of the Audience of Mexico were sold, according to Busta- 
mante, as wrapping-paper, to apothecaries, shopkeepers, and rocket- 
makers ! Boturini's noble collection has not fared much better. 

x 9 The history of this famous collection is familiar to scholars. It 
was sent to the Emperor Charles the Fifth, not long after the Con- 
quest, by the viceroy Mendoza, Marques de Mondejar. The vessel 
fell into the hands of a French cruiser, and the manuscript was taken 
to Paris. It was afterwards bought by the chaplain of the English 


most brilliant in coloring, probably, is the Borgian 
collection, in Rome. 20 The most curious, however, is 

embassy, and, coming into the possession of the antiquary Purchas, 
was engraved, in extenso, by him, in the third volume of his " Pil- 
grimage." After its publication, in 162*5, the Aztec original lost its 
importance, and fell into oblivion so completely that, when at length 
the public curiosity was excited in regard to its fate, no trace of it 
could be discovered. Many were the speculations of scholars, at 
home and abroad, respecting it, and Dr. Robertson settled the ques- 
tion as to its existence in England, by declaring that there was no 
Mexican relic in that country, except a golden goblet of Montezuma. 
(History of America (London, 1796), vol. iii. p. 370.) Nevertheless, 
the identical Codex, and several other Mexican paintings, have been 
since discovered in the Bodleian Library. The circumstance has 
brought some obloquy on the historian, who, while prying into the 
collections of Vienna and the Escorial, could be so blind to those 
under his own eyes. The oversight will not appear so extraordinary 
to a thorough-bred collector, whether of manuscripts, or medals, or 
any other rarity. The Mendoza Codex is, after all, but a copy, coarsely 
done with a pen on European paper. Another copy, from which Arch- 
bishop Lorenzana engraved his tribute-rolls in Mexico, existed in 
Boturini's collection. A third is in the Escorial, according to the 
Marquis of Spineto. (Lectures on the Elements of Hieroglyphics 
(London), Lect. 7.) This may possibly be the original painting. The 
entire Codex, copied from the Bodleian maps, with its Spanish and 
English interpretations, is included in the noble compilation of Lord 
Kingsborough. (Vols, i., v., vi.) It is distributed into three parts, 
embracing the civil history of the nation, the tributes paid by the 
cities, and the domestic economy and discipline of the Mexicans, and, 
from the fulness of the interpretation, is of much importance in regard 
to these several topics. 

20 It formerly belonged to the Giustiniani family, but was so little 
cared for that it was suffered to fall into the mischievous hands of the 
domestics' children, who made sundry attempts to burn it. Fortu- 
nately, it was painted on deerskin, and, though somewhat singed, was 
not destroyed. (Humboldt, Vues des Cordilleres, p. 89, et seq.) It 
is impossible to cast the eye over this brilliant assemblage of forms 
and colors without feeling how hopeless must be the attempt to recover 
a key to the Aztec mythological symbols ; which are here distributed 



the Dresden Codex, which has excited less attention 
than it deserves. Although usually classed among 
Mexican manuscripts, it bears little resemblance to 
them in its execution ; the figures of objects are more 
delicately drawn, and the characters, unlike the Mex- 
ican, appear to be purely arbitrary, and are possibly 
phonetic. 21 Their regular arrangement is quite equal 
to the Egyptian. The whole infers a much higher 
civilization than the Aztec, and offers abundant food 
for curious speculation. Ba 

with the symmetry, indeed, but in all the endless combinations, of the 
kaleidoscope. It is in the third volume of Lord Kingsborough's work. 

81 Humboldt, who has copied some pages of i* in his "Atlas pitto- 
resque," intimates no doubt of its Aztec origin. (Vues des Cordilleres, 
pp. 266, 267.) M. Le Noir even reads in it an exposition of Mexican 
Mythology, with occasional analogies to that of Egypt and of Hin- 
dostan. (Antiquites Mexicaines, torn, ii., Introd.) The fantastic forms 
of hieroglyphic symbols may afford analogies for almost anything. 

22 The history of this Codex, engraved entire in the third volume of 
the "Antiquities of Mexico," goes no further back than 1739, when it 
was purchased at Vienna for the Dresden Library. It is made of the 
American agave. The figures painted on it bear little resemblance, 
cither in feature or form, to the Mexican. They are surmounted by 
a sort of head-gear, which looks something like a modern peruke. 
On the chin of one we may notice a beard, a sign often used after the 
Conquest to denote a European. Many of the persons are sitting 
cross-legged. The profiles of the faces, and the whole contour of the 
limbs, are sketched with a spirit and freedom very unlike the hard, 
angular outlines of the Aztecs. The characters, also, are delicately 
traced, generally in an irregular but circular form, and are very 
minute. They are arranged, like the Egyptian, both horizontally 
and perpendicularly, mostly in the former manner, and, from the 
prevalent direction of the profiles, would seem to have been read 
from right to left. Whether phonetic or ideographic, they are of 
that compact and purely conventional sort which belongs to a well- 
digested system for the communication of thought. One cannot but 
regret that no trace should exist of the quarter whence this MS. was 


Some few of these maps have interpretations annexed 
to them, which were obtained from the natives after 
the Conquest. 23 The greater part are without any, and 
cannot now be unriddled. Had the Mexicans made 
free use of a phonetic alphabet, it might have been 
originally easy, by mastering the comparatively few 
signs employed in this kind of communication, to 
have got a permanent key to the whole. 24 A brief 

obtained ; perhaps some part of Central America, from the region of 
the mysterious races who built the monuments of Mitla and Palenque; 
though, in truth, there seems scarcely more resemblance in the symbols 
to the Palenque bas-reliefs than to the Aztec paintings.* 

=3 There are three of these : the Mendoza Codex ; the Telleriano- 
Remensis, — formerly the property of Archbishop Tellier, — in the Royal 
Library of Paris ; and the Vatican MS., No. 3738. The interpreta- 
tion of the last bears evident marks of its recent origin ; probably as 
late as the close of the sixteenth or the beginning of the seventeenth 
century, when the ancient hieroglyphics were read with the eye of 
faith rather than of reason. Whoever was the commentator (comp. 
Vues des Cordilleres, pp. 203, 204; and Antiq. of Mexico, vol. vi. pp. 
155, 222), he has given such an exposition as shows the old Aztecs to 
have been as orthodox Christians as any subjects of the Pope. 

=4 The total number of Egyptian hieroglyphics discovered by Cham- 
pollion amounts to 864 ; and of these 130 only are phonetic, notwith- 
standing that this kind of character is used far more frequently than 
both the others. Precis, p. 263 ; — also Spineto, Lectures, Lect. 3. 

* [Mr. Stephens, who, like Humboldt, considered the Dresden 
Codex a Mexican manuscript, compared the characters of it with those 
on the altar of Copan, and drew the conclusion that the inhabitants 
of that place and of Palenque must have spoken the same language 
as the Aztecs. Prescott's opinion has, however, been confirmed by 
later critics, who have shown that the hieroglyphics of the Dresden 
Codex are quite different from those at Copan and Palenque, while 
the Mexican writing bears not the least resemblance to either. 
See Orozco y Berra, Geografia de las Lenguas de Mexico, p. 101. 
— ED.] 



inscription has furnished a clue to the vast labyrinth 
of Egyptian hieroglyphics. But the Aztec characters, 
representing individuals, or, at most, species, require 
to be made out separately ; a hopeless task, for which 
little aid is to be expected from the vague and general 
tenor of the few interpretations now existing. There 
was, as already mentioned, until late in the last cen- 
tury, a professor in the University of Mexico, especially 
devoted to the study of the national picture-writing. 
But, as this was with a view to legal proceedings, his 
information, probably, was limited to deciphering titles. 
In less than a hundred years after the Conquest, the 
knowledge of the hieroglyphics had so far declined 
that a diligent Tezcucan writer complains he could 
find in the country only two persons, both very aged, 
at all competent to interpret them. 25 

It is not probable, therefore, that the art of reading 
these picture-writings will ever be recovered; a cir- 
cumstance certainly to be regretted Not that the 
records of a semi-civilized people would be likely to 
contain any new truth or discovery important to human 
comfort or progress ; but they could scarcely fail to 
throw some additional light on the previous history of 

2 S Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., Dedic. — Boturini, who travelled 
through every part of the country in the middle of the last century, 
could not meet with an individual who could afford him the least 
clue to the Aztec hieroglyphics. So completely had ever}' vestige of 
their ancient language been swept away from the memory of the 
natives. (Idea, p. 116.) If we are to believe Bustamante, how- 
ever, a complete key to the whole system is, at this moment, some- 
where in Spain. It was carried home, at the time of the process 
against Father Mier, in 1795. The name of the Mexican Champol- 
lion who discovered it is Borunda. Gama, Descripcion, torn. ii. p. 
33, nota. 

Vol. I. — 10 


the nation, and that of the more polished people who 
before occupied the country. This would be still more 
probable, if any literary relics of their Toltec prede- 
cessors were preserved ; and, if report be true, an 
important compilation from this source was extant at 
the time of the invasion, and may have perhaps con- 
tributed to swell the holocaust of Zumarraga. 26 It is 
no great stretch of fancy to suppose that such records 
might reveal the successive links in the mighty chain 
of migration of the primitive races, and, by carrying 
us back to the seat of their possessions in the Old 

26 Teoamoxtli, " the divine book," as it was called. According to 
Ixtlilxochitl, it was composed by a Tezcucan doctor, named Hue- 
matzin, towards the close of the seventeenth century. (Relaciones, MS.) 
It gave an account of the migrations of his nation from Asia, of the 
various stations on their journey, of their social and religious institu- 
tions, their science, arts, etc., etc., a good deal too much for one book. 
Ignotum pro mirifico. It has never been seen by a European* A 
copy is said to have been in possession of the Tezcucan chroniclers 
on the taking of their capital. (Bustamante, Cronica Mexicana 
(Mexico, 1822), carta 3.) Lord Kingsborough, who can scent out a 
Hebrew root be it buried never so deep, has discovered that the 
Teoamoxtli was the Pentateuch. Thus, teo means " divine," amotl, 
" paper" or " book," and moxtli "appears to be Moses;" — "Divine 
Book of Moses" ! Antiq. of Mexico, vol. vi. p. 204, nota. 

* [It must have been seen by many Europeans, if we accept either 
the statement of the Baron de Waldeck, in 1838 (Voyage pittoresque 
et arch^ologique dans la Province d'Yucatan), that it was then in his 
possession, or the theories of Brasseur de Bourbourg, who identifies it 
with the Dresden Codex and certain other hieroglyphical manuscripts, 
and who believes himself to have found the key to it, and consequently 
to the origin of the Mexican history and civilization, in one of the 
documents in Boturini's collection, to which he has given the name 
of the Codex Chimalpopoca. Quatre Lettres sur le Mexique (Paris, 
1868).— Ed.] 


World, have solved the mystery which has so long 
perplexed the learned, in regard to the settlement and 
civilization of the New.* 

Besides the hieroglyphical maps, the traditions of 
the country were embodied in the songs and hymns, 
which, as already mentioned, were carefully taught in 
the public schools. These were various, embracing 
the mythic legends of a heroic age, the warlike achieve- 
ments of their own, or the softer tales of love and 
pleasure. 27 Many of them were composed by scholars 
and persons of rank, and are cited as affording the 
most authentic record of events. 28 The Mexican dia- 
lect was rich and expressive, though inferior to the 
Tezcucan, the most polished of the idioms of Anahuac. 

=7 Boturini, Idea, pp. 90-97. — Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, torn, 
ii. pp. 174-178. 

28 " Los cantos con que las observaban Autores muy graves en su 
modo de ciencia y facultad, pues fueron los mismos Reyes, y de la 
gente mas ilustre y entendida, que siempre observaron y adquirieron 
la verdad, y esta con tanta razon, quanta pudieron tener los mas 
graves y fidedignos Autores." Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., Prologo. 

* [Such a supposition would require a " stretch of fancy" greater 
than any which the mind of the mere historical inquirer is capable of 
taking. To admit the probability of the Asiatic origin of the Amer- 
ican races, and of the indefinite antiquity of the Mexican civilization, 
is something very different from believing that this civilization, already 
developed in the degree required for the existence and preservation of 
its own records during so long a period and so great a migration, can 
have been transplanted from the one continent to the other. It would 
be easier to accept the theory, now generally abandoned, that the 
original settlers owed their civilization to a body of colonists from 
Phoenicia. In view of so hazardous a conjecture, it is difficult to 
understand why Buschmann has taken exception to the " sharp criti- 
cism" to which Prescott has subjected the sources of Mexican his- 
tory, and his " low estimate of their value and credibility." — Ed.] 


None of the Aztec compositions have survived, but we 
can form some estimate of the general state of poetic 
culture from the odes which have come down to us from 
the royal house of Tezcuco. 29 Sahagun has furnished 
us with translations of their more elaborate prose, con- 
sisting of prayers and public discourses, which give 
a favorable idea of their eloquence, and show that 
they paid much attention to rhetorical effect. They 
are said to have had, also, something like theatrical 
exhibitions, of a pantomimic sort, in which the faces 
of the performers were covered with masks, and the 
figures of birds or animals were frequently represented ; 
an imitation to which they may have been led by the 
familiar delineation of such objects in their hiero- 
glyphics. 30 In all this we see the dawning of a literary 
culture, surpassed, however, by their attainments in the 
severer walks of mathematical science. 

They devised a system of notation in their arith- 
metic sufficiently simple. The first twenty numbers 
were expressed by a corresponding number of dots. 
The first five had specific names ; after which they were 
represented by combining the fifth with one of the four 
preceding ; as five and one for six, five and two for 
seven, and so on. Ten and fifteen had each a sepa- 
rate name, which was also combined with the first four, 
to express a higher quantity. These four, therefore, 
were the radical characters of their oral arithmetic, in 

=9 See chap. 6 of this Introduction. 

30 See some account of these mummeries in Acosta (lib. 5, cap. 30), 
— also Clavigero (Stor. del Messico, ubi supra). Stone models of 
masks are sometimes found among the Indian ruins, and engravings 
of them are both in Lord Kingsborough's work and in the Antiquite's 


the same manner as they were of the written with the 
ancient Romans ; a more simple arrangement, proba- 
bly, than any existing among Europeans. 3 ' Twenty 
was expressed by a separate hieroglyphic, — a flag. 
Larger sums were reckoned by twenties, and, in 
writing, by repeating the number of flags. The square 
of twenty, four hundred, had a separate sign, that of 
a plume, and so had the cube of twenty, or eight 
thousand, which was denoted by a purse, or sack. 
This was the whole arithmetical apparatus of the Mex- 
icans, by the combination of which they were enabled 
to indicate any quantity. For greater expedition, they 
used to denote fractions of the larger sums by drawing 
only a part of the object. Thus, half or three-fourths 
of a plume, or of a purse, represented that proportion 
of their respective sums, and so on. 32 With all this, 
the machinery will appear very awkward to us, who 
perform our operations with so much ease by means of 
the Arabic or, rather, Indian ciphers. It is not much 
more awkward, however, than the system pursued by 
the great mathematicians of antiquity, unacquainted 
with the brilliant invention, which has given a new 
aspect to mathematical science, of determining the 
value, in a great measure, by the relative position of 
the figures. 

In the measurement of time, the Aztecs adjusted 
their civil year by the solar. They divided it into 

3* Gama, Descripcion, Parte 2, Apend. 2. — Gama, in comparing 
the language of Mexican notation with the decimal system of the 
Europeans and the ingenious binary system of Leibnitz, confounds 
oral with written arithmetic. 

3» Ibid., ubi supra. — This learned Mexican has given a very satis- 
factory treatise on the arithmetic of the Aztecs, in his second part. 


eighteen months of twenty days each. Both months 
and days were expressed by peculiar hieroglyphics, — 
those of the former often intimating the season of the 
year, like the French months at the period of the 
Revolution. Five complementary days, as in Egypt, 33 
were added, to make up the full number of three hun- 
dred and sixty-five. They belonged to no month, and 
were regarded as peculiarly unlucky. A month was 
divided into four weeks, of five days each, on the last 
of which was the public fair, or market-day. 34 This 
arrangement, differing from that of the nations of the 
Old Continent, whether of Europe or Asia, 3S has the 
advantage of giving an equal number of days to each 
month, and of comprehending entire weeks, without 
a fraction, both in the months and in the year. 36 

As the year is composed of nearly six hours more than 
three hundred and sixty-five days, there still remained 
an excess, which, like other nations who have framed 
a calendar, they provided for by intercalation ; not, 

33 Herodotus, Euterpe, sec. 4. 

34 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 4, Apend. — According to 
Clavigero, the fairs were held on the days bearing the sign of the year. 
Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. p. 62. 

35 The people of Java, according to Sir Stamford Raffles, regulated 
their markets, also, by a week of five days. They had, besides, our 
week of seven. (History of Java (London, 1830), vol. i. pp. 531, 
532.) The latter division of time, of general use throughout the East, 
is the oldest monument existing of astronomical science. See La 
Place, Exposition du Systeme du Monde (Paris, 1808), lib. 5, chap. 1. 

36 Veytia, Historia antigua de Mejico (Mejico, 1806), torn. i. cap. 
6, 7. — Gama, Descripcion, Parte 1, pp. 33, 34, et alibi. — Boturini, 
Idea, pp. 4, 44, et seq. — Cod. Tel. -Rem., ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. 
vi. p. 104. — Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. — Toribio, Hist, de los 
Indios, MS., Parte 1, cap. 5. 



indeed, every fourth year, as the Europeans, 37 but at 
longer intervals, like some of the Asiatics. 38 They 
waited till the expiration of fifty-two vague years, when 
they interposed thirteen days, or rather twelve and a 
half, this being the number which had fallen in arrear. 
Had they inserted thirteen, it would have been too 
much, since the annual excess over three hundred and 
sixty-five is about eleven minutes less than six hours. 
But, as their calendar at the time of the Conquest was 
found to correspond with the European (making allow- 
ance for the subsequent Gregorian reform), they would 
seem to have adopted the shorter period of twelve days 
and a half, 39 which brought them, within an almost 

37 Sahagun intimates doubts of this. " They celebrated another feast 
every four years in honor of the elements of fire, and it is probable 
and has been conjectured that it was on these occasions that they 
made their intercalation, counting six days of nemontemi," as the 
unlucky complementary days were called. (Hist, de Nueva-Espana, 
lib. 4, Apend.) But this author, however good an authority for the 
superstitions, is an indifferent one for the science of the Mexicans. 

3 s The Persians had a cycle of one hundred and twenty years, of 
three hundred and sixty-five days each, at the end of which they 
intercalated thirty days. (Humboldt, Vues des Cordilleres, p. 177.) 
This was the same as thirteen after the cycle of fifty-two years of the 
Mexicans, but was less accurate than their probable intercalation of 
twelve days and a half. It is obviously indifferent, as far as accuracy 
is concerned, which multiple of four is selected to form the cycle ; 
though, the shorter the interval of intercalation, the less, of course, 
will be the temporary departure from the true time. 

39 This is the conclusion to which Gama arrives, after a very careful 
investigation of the subject. He supposes that the " bundles," or 
cycles, of fifty-two years — by which, as we shall see, the Mexicans 
computed time — ended alternately at midnight and midday. (De- 
scription, Parte 1, p. 52, et seq.) He finds some warrant for this in 
Acosta's account (lib. 6, cap. 2), though contradicted by Torquemada 
(Monarch. Ind., lib. 5, cap. 33), and, as it appears, by Sahagun, — 


inappreciable fraction, to the exact length of the trop- 
ical year, as established by the most accurate observa- 
tions. 40 Indeed, the intercalation of twenty-five days 
in every hundred and four years shows a nicer adjust- 
ment of civil to solar time than is presented by any 
European calendar ; since more than five centuries 
must elapse before the loss of an entire day. 41 Such 
was the astonishing precision displayed by the Aztecs, 
or, perhaps, by their more polished Toltec predecessors, 
in these computations, so difficult as to have baffled, 
till a comparatively recent period, the most enlightened 
nations of Christendom ! 42 

whose work, however, Gama never saw (Hist, de Nueva - Espana, 
lib. 7, cap. 9), — both of whom place the close of the year at midnight. 
Gama's hypothesis derives confirmation from a circumstance I have 
not seen noticed. Besides the "bundle" of fifty-two years, the Mex- 
icans had a larger cycle of one hundred and four years, called " an 
old age." As this was not used in their reckonings, which were carried 
on by their " bundles," it seems highly probable that it was designed 
to express the period which would bring round the commencement 
of the smaller cycles to the same hour, and in which the intercalary 
days, amounting to twenty-five, might be comprehended without a 

4° This length, as computed by Zach, at 365d. 5h. 48m. 48sec, is 
only 2m. 9sec. longer than the Mexican ; which corresponds with the 
celebrated calculation of the astronomers of the Caliph Almamon, 
that fell short about two minutes of the true time. See La Place, 
Exposition, p. 350. 

41 " El corto exceso de 4hor. 38mm. 40seg., que hay de mas de los 
25 dias en el periodo de 104 anos, no puede componer un dia entero, 
hasta que pasen mas de cinco de estos periodos maximos 6 538 aiios." 
(Gama, Descripcion, Parte 1, p. 23.) Gama estimates the solar year 
at 365d. 5h. 48m. 5osec. 

42 The ancient Etruscans arranged their calendar in cycles of no 
solar years, and reckoned the year at 365d. 5I1. 40m. ; at least this 
seems probable, says Niebuhr. (History of Rome, Eng. trans. (Cam- 
bridge, 1828), vol. i. pp. 113, 238.) The early Romans had not wit 



The chronological system of the Mexicans, by which 
they determined the date of any particular event, was 
also very remarkable. The epoch from which they 
reckoned corresponded with the year 1091 of the 
Christian era. It was the period of the reform of their 
calendar, soon after their migration from Aztlan. They 
threw the years, as already noticed, into great cycles, 
of fifty-two each, which they called "sheafs," or 
"bundles," and represented by a quantity of reeds 
bound together by a string. As often as this hiero- 
glyphic occurs in their maps, it shows the number of 
half-centuries. To enable them to specify any partic- 

enough to avail themselves of this accurate measurement, which 
came within nine minutes of the true time. The Julian reform, 
which assumed 3651!. s^h. as the length of the year, erred as much, 
or rather more, on the other side. And when the Europeans, who 
adopted this calendar, landed in Mexico, their reckoning was nearly 
eleven days in advance of the exact time, — or, in other words, of the 
reckoning of the barbarous Aztecs ; a remarkable fact. — Gama's re- 
searches led to the conclusion that the year of the new cycle began 
with the Aztecs on the ninth of January ; a date considerably earlier 
than that usually assigned by the Mexican writers. (Descripcion, Parte 
2, pp. 49-52.) By postponing the intercalation to the end of fifty-two 
years, the annual loss of six hours made every fourth year begin a 
day earlier. Thus, the cycle commencing on the ninth of January, 
the fifth year of it began on the eighth, the ninth year on the seventh, 
and so on ; so that the last day of the series of fifty-two years fell on 
the twenty-sixth of December, when the intercalation of thirteen days 
rectified the chronology and carried the commencement of the new 
near to the ninth of January again. Torquemada, puzzled by the 
irregularity of the new-year's day, asserts that the Mexicans were 
unacquainted with the annual excess of six hours, and therefore never 
intercalated! (Monarch. Ind., lib. 10, cap. 36.) The interpreter of 
the Vatican Codex has fallen into a series of blunders on the same 
subject, still more ludicrous. (Antiq. of Mexico, vol. vi. PI. 16.) So 
soon had Aztec science fallen into oblivion after the Conquest ! 


ular year, they divided the great cycle into four smaller 
cycles, or indictions, of thirteen years each. They 
then adopted two periodical series of signs, one con- 
sisting of their numerical dots, up to thirteen, the 
other, of four hieroglyphics of the years. 43 These 
latter they repeated in regular succession, setting 
against each one a number of the corresponding series 
of dots, continued also in regular succession up to 
thirteen. The same system was pursued through the 
four indictions, which thus, it will be observed, began 
always with a different hieroglyphic of the year from 
the preceding; and in this way each of the hiero- 
glyphics was made to combine successively with each 
of the numerical signs, but never twice with the same ; 
since four, and thirteen, the factors of fifty-two, — the 
number of years in the cycle, — must admit of just as 
many combinations as are equal to their product. 
Thus every year had its appropriate symbol, by which 
it was at once recognized. And this symbol, preceded 
by the proper number of "bundles" indicating the 
half-centuries, showed the precise time which had 
elapsed since the national epoch of 1091. 44 The inge- 

43 These hieroglyphics were a "rabbit," a "reed," a "flint," a 
" house." They were taken as symbolical of the four elements, air, 
water, fire, earth, according to Veytia. (Hist, antig., torn. i. cap. 5.) 
It is not easy to see the connection between the terms "rabbit" and 
"air," which lead the respective series." 3 * 

44 The following table of two of the four indictions of thirteen years 
each will make the text more clear. The first column shows the actual 
year of the great cycle, or "bundle." The second, the numerical 
dots used in their arithmetic. The third is composed of their hiero- 
glyphics for rabbit, reed, flint, house, in their regular order. 

* [The fleet and noiseless motions of the animal seem to offer an 
obvious explanation of the symbol. — Ed.] 



nious contrivance of a periodical series, in place of the 
cumbrous system of hieroglyphical notation, is not 

First Indiction. 

of the 



Second Indiction. 

of the 









By pursuing the combinations through the two remaining indictions, 
it will be found that the same number of dots will never coincide with 


peculiar to the Aztecs, and is to be found among va- 
rious nations on the Asiatic continent, — the same in 
principle, though varying materially in arrangement.'* 5 
The solar calendar above described might have 
answered all the purposes of the people ; but the priests 
chose to construct another for themselves. This was 
called a "lunar reckoning," though nowise accommo- 
dated to the revolutions of the moon. 46 It was formed, 

the same hieroglyphic. These tables are generally thrown into the 
form of wheels, as are those also of their months and days, having a 
very pretty effect. Several have been published, at different times, 
from the collections of Siguenza and Boturini. The wheel of the 
great cycle of fifty-two years is encompassed by a serpent, which was 
also the symbol of " an age," both with the Persians and Egyptians. 
Father Toribio seems to misapprehend the nature of these chrono- 
logical wheels: "Tenian rodelas y escudos, y en ellas pintadas las 
figuras y armas de sus Demonios con su blason." Hist, de los Indios, 
MS., Parte i, cap. 4. 

45 Among the Chinese, Japanese, Moghols, Mantchous, and other 
families of the Tartar race. Their series are composed of symbols of 
their five elements, and the twelve zodiacal signs, making a cycle of 
sixty years' duration. Their several systems are exhibited, in connec- 
tion with the Mexican, in the luminous pages of Humboldt (Vues 
des Cordilleres, p. 149), who draws important consequences from the 
comparison, to which we shall have occasion to return hereafter. 

46 In this calendar, the months of the tropical year were distributed 
into cycles of thirteen days, which, being repeated twenty times, — 
the number of days in a solar month,— completed the lunar, or astro- 
logical, year of 260 days ; when the reckoning began again. " By the 
contrivance of these trecenas (terms of thirteen days) and the cycle of 
fifty-two years," says Gama, " they formed a luni-solar period, most 
exact for astronomical purposes." (Description, Parte 1, p. 27.) He 
adds that these trecenas were suggested by the periods in which the 
moon is visible before and after conjunction. (Loc. cit.) It seems 
hardly possible that a people capable of constructing a calendar so 
accurately on the true principles of solar time should so grossly err 
as to suppose that in this reckoning they really " represented the daily 


also, of two periodical series, one of them consisting 
of thirteen numerical signs, or dots, the other, of the 
twenty hieroglyphics of the days. But, as the product 
of these combinations would be only 260, and as some 
confusion might arise from the repetition of the same 
terms for the remaining 105 days of the year, they 
invented a third series, consisting of nine additional 
hieroglyphics, which, alternating with the two pre- 
ceding series, rendered it impossible that the three 
should coincide twice in the same year, or indeed in 
less than 2340 days ; since 20 x 13 x 9 = 2340. 47 Thir- 
teen was a mystic number, of frequent use in their 
tables. 48 Why they resorted to that of nine, on this 
occasion, is not so clear. 49 

revolutions of the moon." "The whole Eastern world," says the 
learned Niebuhr, "has followed the moon in its calendar; the free 
scientific division of a vast portion of time is peculiar to the West. 
Connected with the West is that primeval extinct world which we call 
the New." History of Rome, vol. i. p. 239. 

47 They were named "companions," and "lords of the night," 
and were supposed to preside over the night, as the other signs did 
over the day. Boturini, Idea, p. 57. 

■*8 Thus, their astrological year was divided into months of thirteen 
days ; there were thirteen years in their indictions, which contained 
each three hundred and sixty-five periods of thirteen days, etc. It 
is a curious fact that the number of lunar months of thirteen days 
contained in a cycle of fifty-two years, with the intercalation, should 
correspond precisely with the number of years in the great Sothic 
period of the Egyptians, namely, 1491 ; a period in which the seasons 
and festivals came round to the same place in the year again. The 
coincidence may be accidental. But a people employing periodical 
series and astrological calculations have generally some meaning in 
the numbers they select and the combinations to which they lead. 

+9 According to Gama (Descripcion, Parte 1, pp. 75, 76), because 360 
can be divided by nine without a fraction ; the nine " companions" 
not being attached to the five complementary days. But 4, a mystic 
Vol. I. — f 11 


This second calendar rouses a holy indignation in 
the early Spanish missionaries, and Father Sahagun 
loudly condemns it, as "most unhallowed, since it is 
founded neither on natural reason, nor on the influence 
of the planets, nor on the true course of the year ; but 
is plainly the work of necromancy, and the fruit of a 
compact with the Devil!" 30 One may doubt whether 
the superstition of those who invented the scheme was 
greater than that of those who thus impugned it. At 
all events, we may, without having recourse to super- 
natural agency, find in the human heart a sufficient 
explanation of its origin ; in that love of power, that 

number much used in their arithmetical combinations, would have 
answered the same purpose equally well. In regard to this, McCulloh 
observes, with much shrewdness, " It seems impossible that the Mex- 
icans, so careful in constructing their cycle, should abruptly terminate 
it with 360 revolutions, whose natural period of termination is 2340." 
And he supposes the nine " companions" were used in connection 
with the cycles of 260 days, in order to throw them into the larger 
ones, of 2340; eight of which, with a ninth of 260 days, he ascertains 
to be equal to the great solar period of 52 years. (Researches, pp. 
207, 208.) This is very plausible. But in fact the combinations of the 
two first series, forming the cycle of 260 days, were always interrupted 
at the end of the year, since each new year began with the same 
hieroglyphic of the days. The third series of the " companions" was 
intermitted, as above stated, on the five unlucky days which closed 
the year, in order, if we may believe Boturini, that the first day of the 
solar year might have annexed to it the first of the nine " compan- 
ions," which signified " lord of the year" (Idea, p. 57) ; a result which ' 
might have been equally well secured, without any intermission at all, 
by taking 5, another favorite number, instead of 9, as the divisor. As 
it was, however, the cycle, as far as the third series was concerned, did 
terminate with 360 revolutions. The subject is a perplexing one, and 
I can hardly hope to have presented it in such a manner as to make 
it perfectly clear to the reader. 
5° Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 4, Introd. 



has led the priesthood of many a faith to affect a mys- 
tery the key to which was in their own keeping. 

By means of this calendar, the Aztec priests kept 
their own records, regulated the festivals and seasons 
of sacrifice, and made all their astrological calcula- 
tions. 51 The false science of astrology is natural to a 
state of society partially civilized, where the mind, im- 
patient of the slow and cautious examination by which 
alone it can arrive at truth, launches at once into the 
regions of speculation, and rashly attempts to lift the 
veil — the impenetrable veil — which is drawn around 
the mysteries of nature. It is the characteristic of true 
science to discern the impassable, but not very obvious, 
limits which divide the province of reason from that 
of speculation. Such knowledge comes tardily. How 
many ages have rolled away, in which powers that, 
rightly directed, might have revealed the great laws 
of nature, have been wasted in brilliant but barren 
reveries on alchemy and astrology ! 

The latter is more particularly the study of a primi- 
tive age ; when the mind, incapable of arriving at the 
stupendous fact that the myriads of minute lights glow- 
ing in the firmament are the centres of systems as glorious 
as our own, is naturally led to speculate on their prob- 
able uses, and to connect them in some way or other 
with man, for whose convenience every other object in 
the universe seems to have been created. As the eye 

51 " Dans les pays les plus differents," says Benjamin Constant, con- 
cluding some sensible reflections on the sources of the sacerdotal 
power, " chez les peuples de mceurs les plus opposees, le sacerdoce a 
du au culte des elements et des astres un pouvoir dont aujourd'hui 
nous concevons a peine l'idee." De la Religion (Paris, 1825), lib. 3, 
ch. 5. 


of the simple child of nature watches, through the long 
nights, the stately march of the heavenly bodies, and 
sees the bright hosts coming up, one after another, and 
changing with the changing seasons of the year, he 
naturally associates them with those seasons, as the 
periods over which they hold a mysterious influence. 
In the same manner, he connects their appearance with 
any interesting event of the time, and explores, in their 
flaming characters, the destinies of the new-born in- 
fant. 52 Such is the origin of astrology, the false lights 
of which have continued from the earliest ages to dazzle 
and bewilder mankind, till they have faded away in 
the superior illumination of a comparatively recent 

The astrological scheme of the Aztecs was founded 
less on the planetary influences than on those of the 
arbitrary signs they had adopted for the months and 
days. The character of the leading sign in each lunar 
cycle of thirteen days gave a complexion to the whole ; 
though this was qualified in some degree by the signs 
of the succeeding days, as well as by those of the hours. 
It was in adjusting these conflicting forces that the 
great art of the diviner was shown. In no country, 
not even in ancient Egypt, were the dreams of the 
astrologer more implicitly deferred to. On the birth 

52 " It is a gentle and affectionate thought, 
That, in immeasurable heights above us, 
At our first birth the wreath of love was woven 
With sparkling stars for flowers." 

Coleridge : Translation of Wallenstein, act 2, sc. 4. 

Schiller is more true to poetry than history, when he tells us, in the 
beautiful passage of which this is part, that the worship of the stars 
took the place of classic mythology. It existed long before it. 


I2 5 

of a child, he was instantly summoned. The time of 
the event was accurately ascertained ; and the family 
hung in trembling suspense, as the minister of Heaven 
cast the horoscope of the infant and unrolled the dark 
volume of destiny. The influence of the priest was 
confessed by the Mexican in the very first breath which 
he inhaled. 53 

We know little further of the astronomical attain- 
ments of the Aztecs. That they were acquainted with 
the cause of eclipses is evident from the representa- 
tion, on their maps, of the disk of the moon projected 
on that of the sun. 54 Whether they had arranged a 
system of constellations is uncertain ; though that they 
recognized some of the most obvious, as the Pleiades, 
for example, is evident from the fact that they regu- 
lated their festivals by them. We know of no astro- 
nomical instruments used by them, except the dial. ss 

53 Gama has given us a complete almanac of the astrologioal year, 
with the ^appropriate signs and divisions, showing with what scientific 
skill it was adapted to its various uses. (Descripcion, Parte i, pp. 
25-31, 62-76.) Sahagun has devoted a whole book to explaining the 
mystic import and value of these signs, with a minuteness that may 
enable one to cast up a scheme of nativity for himself. (Hist, de Nueva- 
Espafia, lib. 4.) It is evident he fully believed the magic wonders 
which he told. "It was a deceitful art," he says, "pernicious and 
idolatrous, and was never contrived by human reason." The good 
father was certainly no philosopher. 

54 See, among others, the Cod. Tel.-Rem., Part 4, PI. 22, ap. Antiq. 
of Mexico, vol. i. 

55 " It can hardly be doubted," says Lord Kingsborough, " that the 
Mexicans were acquainted with many scientifical instruments of strange 
invention, as compared with our own ; whether the telescope may not 
have been of the number is uncertain ; but the thirteenth plate of M. 
Dupaix's Monuments, Part Second, which represents a man holding 
something of a similar nature to his eye, affords reason to suppose 




An immense circular block of carved stone, disinterred 
in 1 790, in the great square of Mexico, has supplied an 
acute and learned scholar with the means of establish- 
ing some interesting facts in regard to Mexican 
science. 56 This colossal fragment, on which the 
calendar is engraved, shows that they had the means 
of settling the hours of the day with precision, the 
periods of the solstices and of the equinoxes, and that 
of the transit of the sun across the zenith of Mexico. 57 
We cannot contemplate the astronomical science of 
the Mexicans, so disproportioned to their progress in 
other walks of civilization, without astonishment. An 
acquaintance with some of the more obvious principles 
of astronomy is within the reach of the rudest people. 

that they knew how to improve the powers of vision." (Antiq. of 
Mexico, vol. vi. p. 15, note.) The instrument alluded to is rudely 
carved on a conical rock. It is raised no higher than the neck of the 
person who holds it, and looks — to my thinking — as much like a musket 
as a telescope ; though I shall not infer the use of fire-arms among the 
Aztecs from this circumstance. (See vol. iv. PI. 15.) Captain* Dupaix, 
however, in his commentary on the drawing, sees quite as much in it 
as his lordship. Ibid., vol. v. p. 241. 

56 Gama, Descripcion, Parte 1, sec. 4; Parte 2, Apend. — Besides this 
colossal fragment, Gama met with some others, designed, probably, for 
similar scientific uses, at Chapoltepec. Before he had leisure to ex- 
amine them, however, they were broken up for materials to build a 
furnace, — a fate not unlike that which has too often befallen the monu- 
ments of ancient art in the Old World. 

57 In his second treatise on the cylindrical stone, Gama dwells more 
at large on its scientific construction, as a vertical sun-dial, in order to 
dispel the doubts of some sturdy skeptics on this point. (Descripcion, 
Parte 2, Apend. 1.) The civil day was distributed by the Mexicans 
into sixteen parts, and began, like that of most of the Asiatic nations, 
with sunrise. M. de Humboldt, who probably never saw Gama's 
second treatise, allows only eight intervals. Vues des Cordilleres, 
p. 128. 



With a little care, they may learn to connect the regular 
changes of the seasons with those of the place of the 
sun at his rising and setting. They may follow the 
march of the great luminary through the heavens, by 
watching the stars that first brighten on his evening 
track or fade in his morning beams. They may measure 
a revolution of the moon, by marking her phases, and 
may even form a general idea of the number of such 
revolutions in a solar year. But that they should be 
capable of accurately adjusting their festivals by the 
movements of the heavenly bodies, and should fix the 
true length of the tropical year, with a precision un- 
known to the great philosophers of antiquity, could be 
the result only of a long series of nice and patient ob- 
servations, evincing no slight progress in civilization. 38 
But whence could the rude inhabitants of these moun- 
tain-regions have derived this curious erudition ? Not 
from the barbarous hordes who roamed over the higher 
latitudes of the North ; nor from the more polished 
races on the Southern continent, with whom, it is ap- 
parent, they had no intercourse. If we are driven, in 
our embarrassment, like the greatest astronomer of our 
age, to seek the solution among the civilized commu- 
nities of Asia, we shall still be perplexed by finding, 

58 " TJn calendrier," exclaims the enthusiastic Carli, " qui est regie 1 
sur la revolution annuelle du soleil, non-seulement par l'addition de 
cinq jours tous les ans, mais encore par la correction du bissextile, doit 
sans doute etre regard^ comme une operation deduite d'une etude 
r£fl£chie, et d'une grande combinaison. II faut done supposer chez 
ces peuples une suite d' observations astronomiques, une idee distincte 
de la sphere, de la declinaison de l'ecliptique, et l'usage d'un calcul 
concernant les jours et les heures des apparitions solaires." Lettres 
Americaines, torn. i. let. 23. 


amidst general resemblance of outline, sufficient dis- 
crepancy in the details to vindicate, in the judgments 
of many, the Aztec claim to originality. 39 

I shall conclude the account of Mexican science 
with that of a remarkable festival, celebrated by the 
natives at the termination of the great cycle of fifty-two 
years. We have seen, in the preceding chapter, their 
tradition of the destruction of the world at four suc- 
cessive epochs. They looked forward confidently to 
another such catastrophe, to take place, like the pre- 
ceding, at the close of a cycle, when the sun was to be 
effaced from the heavens, the human race from the 
earth, and when the darkness of chaos was to settle on 
the habitable globe. The cycle would end in the latter 
part of December, and as the dreary season of the 
winter solstice approached, and the diminished light 
of day gave melancholy presage of its speedy extinction, 
their apprehensions increased ; and on the arrival of 
the five "unlucky" days which closed the year they 
abandoned themselves to despair. 60 They broke in 
pieces the little images of their household gods, in 
whom they no longer trusted. The holy fires were 
suffered to go out in the temples, and none were lighted 
in their own dwellings. Their furniture and domestic 
utensils were destroyed ; their garments torn in pieces ; 

59 La Place, who suggests the analogy, frankly admits the difficulty. 
Systeme du Monde, lib. 5, ch. 3. 

60 M. Jomard errs in placing the new fire, with which ceremony the 
old cycle properly concluded, at the winter solstice. It was not till 
the 26th of December, if Gama is right. The cause of M. Jomard's 
error is his fixing it before, instead of after, the complementary days. 
See his sensible letter on the Aztec calendar, in the Vues des Cor- 
dilleres, p. 309. 



and every thing was thrown into disorder, for the 
coming of the evil genii who were to descend on the 
desolate earth. 

On the evening of the last day, a procession of 
priests, assuming the dress and ornaments of their gods, 
moved from the capital towards a lofty mountain, about 
two leagues distant. They carried with them a noble 
victim, the flower of their captives, and an apparatus 
for kindling the new fire, the success of which was an 
augury of the renewal of the cycle. On reaching the 
summit of the mountain, the procession paused till 
midnight ; when, as the constellation of the Pleiades 
approached the zenith, 61 the new fire was kindled by 
the friction of the sticks placed on the wounded breast 
of the victim. 6 * The flame was soon communicated to 
a funeral pile, on which the body of the slaughtered 
captive was thrown. As the light streamed up towards 
heaven, shouts of joy and triumph burst forth from the 
countless multitudes who covered the hills, the terraces 
of the temples, and the house-tops, with eyes anxiously 
bent on the mount of sacrifice. Couriers, with torches 

61 At the actual moment of their culmination, according to both 
Sahagun (Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 4, Apend.) and Torquemada 
(Monarch. Ind., lib. io, cap. 33, 36). But this could not be, as that 
took place at midnight, in November, so late as the last secular 
festival, which was early in Montezuma's reign, in 1507. (Gama, 
Descripcion, Parte 1, p. 50, nota. — Humboldt, Vues des Cordilleres, 
pp. 181, 182.) The longer we postpone the beginning of the new 
cycle, the greater must be the discrepancy. 

* a " On his bare breast the cedar boughs are laid ; 

On his bare breast, dry sedge and odorous gums. 
Laid ready to receive the sacred spark, 
And blaze, to herald the ascending Sun. 
Upon his living altar." 

Southey's Madoc, part 2, canto 26. 


lighted at the blazing beacon, rapidly bore them over 
every part of the country ; and the cheering element 
was seen brightening on altar and hearth-stone, for the 
circuit of many a league, long before the sun, rising on 
his accustomed track, gave assurance that a new cycle 
had commenced its march, and that the laws of nature 
were not to be reversed for the Aztecs. 

The following thirteen days were given up to fes- 
tivity. The houses were cleansed and whitened. The 
broken vessels were replaced by new ones. The people, 
dressed in their gayest apparel, and crowned with gar- 
lands and chaplets of flowers, thronged in joyous pro- 
cession to offer up their oblations and thanksgivings in 
the temples. Dances and games were instituted, em- 
blematical of the regeneration of the world. It was 
the carnival of the Aztecs; or rather the national 
jubilee, the great secular festival, like that of the 
Romans, or ancient Etruscans, which few alive had 
witnessed before, or could expect to see again. 63 

6 3 I borrow the words of the summons by which the people were 
called to the ludi seculares, the secular games of ancient Rome, " quos 
nee spectasset qztisquam, nee spectaturus esset." (Suetonius, Vita Tib. 
Claudii, lib. 5.) The old Mexican chroniclers warm into something 
like eloquence in their descriptions of the Aztec festival. (Torque- 
mada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 10, cap. 33. — Toribio, Hist, de los. Indios, 
MS., Parte 1, cap. 5. — Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 7, cap. 
9-12. See, also, Gama, Descripcion, Parte 1, pp. 52-54, — Clavigero, 
Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. pp. 84-86.) The English reader will find a 
more brilliant coloring of the same scene in the canto of Madoc above 
cited, — " On the Close of the Century." 

M. de Humboldt remarked, many years ago, " It were to be wished 
that some government would publish at its own expense the remains 
of the ancient American civilization ; for it is only by the comparison 


J 3i 

of several monuments that we can succeed in discovering the meaning 
of these allegories, which are partly astronomical and partly mystic." 
This enlightened wish has now been realized, not by any government, 
but by a private individual, Lord Kingsborough. The great work 
published under his auspices, and so often cited in this Introduction, 
appeared in London in 1830. When completed it will reach to nine 
volumes, seven of which are now before the public. Some idea of its 
magnificence may be formed by those who have not seen it, from the 
fact that copies of it, with colored plates, sold originally at £17$, 
and, with uncolored, at ^120. The price has been since much re- 
duced. It is designed to exhibit a complete view of the ancient Aztec 
MSS., with such few interpretations as exist; the beautiful drawings 
of Castaneda relating to Central America, with the commentary of 
Dupaix ; the unpublished history of Father Sahagun ; and, last, not 
least, the copious annotations of his lordship. 

Too much cannot be said of the mechanical execution of the book, 
— its splendid typography, the apparent accuracy and the delicacy of 
the drawings, and the sumptuous quality of the materials. Yet the 
purchaser would have been saved some superfluous expense, and the 
reader much inconvenience, if the letter-press had been in volumes 
of an ordinary size. But it is not uncommon, in works on this mag- 
nificent plan, to find utility in some measure sacrificed to show. 

The collection of Aztec MSS., if not perfectly complete, is very 
extensive, and reflects great credit on the diligence and research of 
the compiler. It strikes one as strange, however, that not a single 
document should have been drawn from Spain. Peter Martyr speaks 
of a number having been brought thither in his time. (De Insulis 
nuper Inventis, p. 368.) The Marquis Spineto examined one in the 
Escorial, being the same with the Mendoza Codex, and perhaps the 
original, since that at Oxford is but a copy. (Lectures, Lect. 7.) Mr. 
Waddilove, chaplain of the British embassy to Spain, gave a particular 
account of one to Dr. Robertson, which he saw in the same library 
and considered an Aztec calendar. Indeed, it is scarcely possible that 
the frequent voyagers to the New World should not have furnished 
the mother-country with abundant specimens of this most interesting 
feature of Aztec civilization. Nor should we fear that the present 
liberal government would seclude these treasures from the inspection 
of the scholar. 

Much cannot be said in favor of the arrangement of these codices. 
In some of them, as the Mendoza Codex, for example, the plates are 



not even numbered ; and one who would study them by the corre- 
sponding interpretation must often bewilder himself in the maze of 
hieroglyphics, without a clue to guide him. Neither is there any 
attempt to enlighten us as to the positive value and authenticity 
of the respective documents, or even their previous history, beyond a 
barren reference to the particular library from which they have been 
borrowed. Little light, indeed, can be expected on these matters ; but 
we have not that little. The defect of arrangement is chargeable on 
other parts of the work. Thus, for instance, the sixth book of Sahagun 
is transferred from the body of the history to which it belongs, to a 
preceding volume; while the grand hypothesis of his lordship, for 
which the work was concocted, is huddled into notes, hitched on ran- 
dom passages of the text, with a good deal less connection than the 
stories of Queen Scheherezade, in the "Arabian Nights," and not 
quite so entertaining. 

The drift of Lord Kingsborough's speculations is, to establish the 
colonization of Mexico by the Israelites. To this the whole battery 
of his logic and learning is directed. For this, hieroglyphics are un- 
riddled, manuscripts compared, monuments delineated. His theory, 
however, whatever be its merits, will scarcely become popular ; since, 
instead of being exhibited in a clear and comprehensive form, readily 
embraced by the mind, it is spread over an infinite number of notes, 
thickly sprinkled with quotations from languages ancient and modern, 
till the weary reader, floundering about in the ocean of fragments, 
with no light to guide him, feels like Milton's Devil, working his way 
through chaos, — 

" neither sea, 
Nor good dry land ; nigh foundered, on he fares." 

It would be unjust, however, not to admit that the noble author, if 
his logic is not always convincing, shows much acuteness in detecting 
analogies ; that he displays familiarity with his subject, and a fund of 
erudition, though it often runs to waste ; that, whatever be the defects 
of arrangement, he has brought together a most rich collection of 
unpublished materials to illustrate the Aztec and, in a wider sense, 
American antiquities ; and that by this munificent undertaking, which 
no government, probably, would have, and few individuals could have, 
executed, he has entitled himself to the lasting gratitude of every friend 
of science. 

Another writer whose works must be diligently consulted by every 
student of Mexican antiquities is Antonio Gama. His life contains as 

GAMA. 133 

few incidents as those of most scholars. He was born at Mexico, 
in 1735, of a respectable family, and was bred to the law. He early 
showed a preference for mathematical studies, conscious that in this 
career lay his strength. In 1771 he communicated his observations 
on the eclipse of that year to the French astronomer M. de Lalande, 
who published them in Paris, with high commendations of the author. 
Gama's increasing reputation attracted the attention of government ; 
and he was employed by it in various scientific labors of importance. 
His great passion, however, was the study of Indian antiquities. He 
made himself acquainted with the history of the native races, their 
traditions, their languages, and, as far as possible, their hieroglyphics. 
He had an opportunity of showing the fruits of this preparatory train- 
ing, and his skill as an antiquary, on the discovery of the great calen- 
dar-stone, in 1790. He produced a masterly treatise on this, and 
another Aztec monument, explaining the objects to which they were 
devoted, and pouring a flood of light on the astronomical science of 
the aborigines, their mythology, and their astrological system. He 
afterwards continued his investigations in the same path, and wrote 
treatises on the dial, hieroglyphics, and arithmetic of the Indians. 
These, however, were not given to the world till a few years since, 
when they were published, together with a reprint of the former work, 
under the auspices of the industrious Bustamante. Gama died in 
1802, leaving behind him a reputation for great worth in private life, — 
one in which the bigotry that seems to enter too frequently into the 
character of the Spanish-Mexican was tempered by the liberal feelings 
of a man of science. His reputation as a writer stands high for patient 
acquisition, accuracy, and acuteness. His conclusions are neither 
warped by the love of theory so common in the philosopher, nor by 
the easy credulity so natural to the antiquary. He feels his way with 
the caution of a mathematician, whose steps are demonstrations. M. 
de Humboldt was largely indebted to his first work, as he has emphat- 
ically acknowledged. But, notwithstanding the eulogiums of this 
popular writer, and his own merits, Gama's treatises are rarely met 
with out of New Spain, and his name can hardly be said to have a 
transatlantic reputation. 

Vol. I. 12 




It is hardly possible that a nation so far advanced 
as the Aztecs in mathematical science should not have 
made considerable progress in the mechanical arts, 
which are so nearly connected with it. Indeed, intel- 
lectual progress of any kind implies a degree of refine- 
ment that requires a certain cultivation of both useful 
and elegant art. The savage wandering through the 
wide forest, without shelter for his head or raiment for 
his back, knows no other wants than those of animal 
appetites, and, when they are satisfied, seems to him- 
self to have answered the only ends of existence. But 
man, in society, feels numerous desires, and artificial 
tastes spring up, accommodated to the various relations 
in which he is placed, and perpetually stimulating his 
invention to devise new expedients to gratify them. 

There is a wide difference in the mechanical skill of 
different nations ; but the difference is still greater in 
the inventive power which directs this skill and makes 
it available. Some nations seem to have no power 
beyond that of imitation, or, if they possess invention, 
have it in so low a degree that they are constantly 
repeating the same idea, without a shadow of altera- 
tion or improvement ; as the bird builds precisely the 


same kind of nest which those of its own species built 
at the beginning of the world. Such, for example, 
are the Chinese, who have probably been familiar for 
ages with the germs of some discoveries, of little 
practical benefit to themselves, but which, under the 
influence of European genius, have reached a degree 
of excellence that has wrought an important change in 
the constitution of society. 

Far from looking back and forming itself slavishly 
on the past, it is characteristic of the European intel- 
lect to be ever on the advance. Old discoveries become 
the basis of new ones. It passes onward from truth to 
truth, connecting the whole by a succession of links, 
as it were, into the great chain of science which is to 
encircle and bind together the universe. The light of 
learning is shed over the labors of art. New avenues 
are opened for the communication both of person and 
of thought. New facilities are devised for subsistence. 
Personal comforts, of every kind, are inconceivably 
multiplied, and brought within the reach of the poorest. 
Secure of these, the thoughts travel into a nobler region 
than that of the senses ; and the appliances of art are 
made to minister to the demands of an elegant taste 
and a higher moral culture. 

The same enlightened spirit, applied to agriculture, 
raises it from a mere mechanical drudgery, or the 
barren formula of traditional precepts, to the dignity 
of a science. As the composition of the earth is 
analyzed, man learns the capacity of the soil that he 
cultivates ; and, as his empire is gradually extended 
over the elements of nature, he gains the power to 
stimulate her to her most bountiful and various pro- 


duction. It is with satisfaction that we can turn to 
the land of our fathers, as the one in which the experi- 
ment has been conducted on the broadest scale and 
attended with results that the world has neyer before 
witnessed. With equal truth, we may point to the 
Anglo-Saxon race in both hemispheres, as that whose 
enterprising genius has contributed most essentially to 
the great interests of humanity, by the application of 
science to the useful arts. 

Husbandry, to a very limited extent, indeed, was 
practised by most of the rude tribes of North America. 
Wherever a natural opening in the forest, or a rich 
strip of interval, met their eyes, or a green slope was 
found along the rivers, they planted it with beans and 
Indian corn. 1 The cultivation was slovenly in the 
extreme, and could not secure the improvident natives 
from the frequent recurrence of desolating famines. 
Still, that they tilled the soil at all was a peculiarity 
which honorably distinguished them from other tribes 
of hunters, and raised them one degree higher in the 
scale of civilization. 

Agriculture in Mexico was in the same advanced 
state as the other arts of social life. In few countries, 
indeed, has it been more respected. It was closely 
interwoven with the civil and religious institutions of 
the nation. There were peculiar deities to preside 

1 This latter grain, according to Humboldt, was found by the Eu- 
ropeans in the New World, from the South of Chili to Pennsylvania 
(Essai politique, torn. ii. p 408); he might have added, to the St. 
Lawrence. Our Puritan fathers found it in abundance on the New 
England coast, wherever they landed. See Morton, New England's 
Memorial (Boston, 1826), p. 68. — Gookin, Massachusetts Historical 
Collections, chap. 3. 



over it ; the names of the months and of the religious 
festivals had more or less reference to it. The public 
taxes, as we have seen, were often paid in agricultural 
produce. All except the soldiers and great nobles, 
even the inhabitants of the cities, cultivated the soil. 
The work was chiefly done by the men ; the women 
scattering the seed, husking the corn, and taking part 
only in the lighter labors of the field. 2 In this they 
presented an honorable contrast to the other tribes of 
the continent, who imposed the burden of agriculture, 
severe as it is in the North, on their women. 3 Indeed, 
the sex was as tenderly regarded by the Aztecs in this 
matter, as it is, in most parts of Europe, at the present 

There was no want of judgment in the management 
of their ground. When somewhat exhausted, it was 
permitted to recover by lying fallow. Its extreme 
dryness was relieved by canals, with which the land 
was partially irrigated ; and the same end was pro- 
moted by severe penalties against the destruction of 

3 Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 31. — "Admirable ex- 
ample for our times," exclaims the good father, " when women are 
not only unfit for the labors of the field, but have too much levity to 
attend to their own household !" 

3 A striking contrast also to the Egyptians, with whom some antiqua- 
ries are disposed to identify the ancient Mexicans. Sophocles notices 
the effeminacy of the men in Egypt, who stayed at home tending the 
loom, while their wives were employed in severe labors out of doors : 
" T S2 izo.vt' eke'lvo) Tolg h> Alyvirrti) vofiotg 
$vatv Karei-Kacr&evTS ical 8iov Tpo^df, 
'Em yap oi f/h> upoeveg Kara ore-yog 
QaKovaiv loTOvpyovvreg' ai 6e avvvouoi 
TuJju Blov Tpo<j>ela Ttopavvova' aec." 

Sophocl., OZdip. Col., v. 337-341. 


the woods, with which the country, as already noticed, 
was well covered before the Conquest. Lastly, they 
provided for their harvests ample granaries, which 
were admitted by the Conquerors to be of admirable 
construction. In this provision we see the forecast of 
civilized man. 4 

Among the most important articles of husbandry, 
we may notice the banana, Whose facility of cultivation 
and exuberant returns are so fatal to habits of system- 
atic and hardy industry. 5 Another celebrated plant 
was the cacao, the fruit of which furnished the choco- 
late, — from the Mexican chocolatl, — now so common a 
beverage throughout Europe. 6 The vanilla, confined 
to a small district of the sea-coast, was used for the 
same purposes, of flavoring their food and drink, as 
with us. 7 The great staple of the country, as, indeed, 
of the American continent, was maize, or Indian corn, 
which grew freely along the valleys, and up the steep 
sides of the Cordilleras to the high level of the table- 

4 Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 32. — Clavigero, Stor. 
del Messico, torn. ii. pp. 153-155. — "Jamas padecieron hambre,"says 
the former writer, "sino en pocas ocasiones." If these famines were 
rare, they were very distressing, however, and lasted very long. Comp. 
Ixtiilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 41, 7i,jet alibi. 

5 Oviedo considers the musa an imported plant ; and Hernandez, 
in his copious catalogue, makes no mention of it at all. But Hum- 
boldt, who has given much attention to it, concludes that, if some 
species were brought into the country, others were indigenous. (Essai 
politique, torn. ii. pp. 382-388.) If we may credit Clavigero, the 
banana was the forbidden fruit that tempted our poor mother Eve ! 
Stor. del Messico, torn. i. p. 49, nota. 

6 Rel. d'un gentil' huomo, ap. Ramusio, torn. iii. fol. 306. — Her- 
nandez, De Historia. Plantarum Novse Hispaniae (Matriti, 1790), lib. 6, 
cap. 87. 

i Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 8, cap. 13, et alibi. 


land. The Aztecs were as curious in its preparation, 
and as well instructed in its manifold uses, as the most 
expert New England housewife. Its gigantic stalks, 
in these equinoctial regions, afford a saccharine matter, 
not found to the same extent in northern latitudes, and 
supplied the natives with sugar little inferior to that of 
the cane itself, which was not introduced among them 
till after the Conquest. 8 But the miracle of nature 
was the great Mexican aloe, or maguey, whose cluster- 
ing pyramids of flowers, towering above their dark 
coronals of leaves, were seen sprinkled over many a 
broad acre of the table-land. As we have already 
noticed, its bruised leaves afforded a paste from which 
paper was manufactured ; 9 its juice was fermented into 
an intoxicating beverage, pulque, of which the natives, 
to this day, are excessively fond; 10 its leaves further 
supplied an impenetrable thatch for the more humble 

8 Carta del. Lie. Zuazo, MS. — He extols the honey of the maize, as 
equal to that of bees. (Also Oviedo, Hist, natural de las Indias, cap. 
4, ap. Barcia, torn, i.) Hernandez, who celebrates the manifold ways 
in which the maize was prepared, derives it from the Haytian word 
mahiz. Hist. Plantarum, lib. 6, cap. 44, 45. 

9 And is still, in one spot at least, San Angel, — three leagues from 
the capital. Another mill was to have been established, a few years 
since, in Puebla. Whether this has actually been done, I am igno- 
rant. See the Report of the Committee on Agriculture to the Senate 
of the United States, March 12, 1838. 

10 Before the Revolution, the duties on the pulque formed so im- 
portant a branch of revenue that the cities of Mexico, Puebla, and 
Toluca alone paid $817,739 t0 government. (Humboldt, Essai poli- 
tique, torn. ii. p. 47.) It requires time to reconcile Europeans to the 
peculiar flavor of this liquor, on the merits of which they are conse- 
quently much divided. There is but one opinion among the natives. 
The English reader will find a good account of its manufacture in 
Ward's Mexico, vol. ii. pp. 55-60. 



dwellings ; thread, of which coarse stuffs were made, 
and strong cords, were drawn from its tough and twisted 
fibres; pins and needles were made of the thorns at 
the extremity of its leaves ; and the root, when prop- 
erly cooked, was converted into a palatable and nutri- 
tious food. The agave, in short, was meat, drink, 
clothing, and writing-materials, for the Aztec ! Surely, 
never did Nature enclose in so compact a form so many 
of the elements of human comfort and civilization ! " 

It would be obviously out of place to enumerate in 
these pages all the varieties of plants, many of them 
of medicinal virtue, which have been introduced from 
Mexico into Europe. Still less can I attempt a cata- 
logue of its flowers, which, with their variegated and 

11 Hernandez enumerates the several species of the maguey, which 
are turned to these manifold uses, in his learned work, De Hist. Plan- 
tarum. (Lib. 7, cap. 71, et seq.) M. de Humboldt considers them 
all varieties of the agave Americana, familiar in the southern parts 
both of the United States and Europe. (Essai politique, torn. ii. p. 
487, et seq.) This opinion has brought on him a rather sour rebuke 
from our countryman the late Dr. Perrine, who pronounces them a 
distinct species from the American agave, and regards one of the 
kinds, the pita, from which the fine thread is obtained, as a totally dis- 
tinct genus. (See the Report of the Committee on Agriculture.) Yet 
the Baron may find authority for all the properties ascribed by him to 
the maguey, in the most accredited writers who have resided more or 
less time in Mexico. See, among others, Hernandez, ubi supra. — 
Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espafia, lib. 9, cap. 2; lib. 11, cap. 7. — 
Toribio, Hist, de los Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 19. — Carta del Lie. 
Zuazo, MS. The last, speaking of the maguey, which produces the 
fermented drink, says expressly, " With what remain of these leaves 
they manufacture excellent and very fine cloth, resembling holland, 
or the finest linen." It cannot be denied, however, that Dr. Perrine 
shows himself intimately acquainted with the structure and habits of 
the tropical plants, which, with such patriotic spirit, he proposed to 
introduce into Florida. 



gaudy colors, form the greatest attraction of our green- 
houses. The opposite climates embraced within the 
narrow latitudes of New Spain have given to it, prob- 
ably, the richest and most diversified flora to be found 
in any country on the globe. These different products 
were systematically arranged by the Aztecs, who under- 
stood their properties, and collected them into nurse- 
ries, more extensive than any then existing in the Old 
World. It is not improbable that they suggested the 
idea of those "gardens of plants" which were intro- 
duced into Europe not many years after the Conquest." 
The Mexicans were as well acquainted with the min- 
eral as with the vegetable treasures of their kingdom. 
Silver, lead, and tin they drew from the mines of 
Tasco ; copper from the mountains of Zacotollan. 
These were taken not only from the crude masses on 
the surface, but from veins wrought in the solid rock, 
into which they opened extensive galleries. In fact, 
the traces of their labors furnished the best indications 
for the early Spanish miners.* 3 Gold, found on the 
surface, or gleaned from the beds of rivers, was cast 

12 The first regular establishment of this kind, according to Carli, 
was at Padua, in 1545. Lettres Americaines, torn. i. chap. 21. 

*3 [Though I have conformed to the views of Humboldt in regard 
to the knowledge of mining possessed by the ancient Mexicans, 
Sen or Ramirez thinks the conclusions to which I have been led are 
not warranted by the ancient writers. From the language of Bernal 
Diaz and of Sahagun, in particular, he infers that their only means 
of obtaining the precious metals was by gathering such detached 
masses as were found on the surface of the ground or in the beds of 
the rivers. The small amount of silver in their possession he regards 
as an additional proof of their ignorance of the proper method and 
their want of the requisite tools for extracting it from the earth. See 
Ramirez, Notas y Esclarecimientos, p. 73.] 


into bars, or, in the form of dust, made part of the 
regular tribute of the southern provinces of the empire. 
The use of iron, with which the soil was impreg- 
nated, was unknown to them. Notwithstanding its 
abundance, it demands so many processes to prepare 
it for use that it has commonly been one of the last 
metals pressed into the service of man. The age of 
iron has followed that of brass, in fact as well as in 
fiction. 14 

They found a substitute in an alloy of tin and copper, 
and, with tools made of this bronze, could cut not 
only metals, but, with the aid of a silicious dust, the 
hardest substances, as basalt, porphyry, amethysts, and 
emeralds. 15 They fashioned these last, which were 
found very large, into many curious and fantastic 
forms. They cast, also, vessels of gold and silver, 
carving them with their metallic chisels in a very 

M P. Martyr, De Orbe Novo, Decades (Compluti, 1530), dec. 5, p. 
191. — Acosta, lib. 4, cap. 3. — Humboldt, Essai politique, torn. iii. pp. 
114-125. — Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 34. 

" Men wrought in brass," says Hesiod, " when iron did not exist." 

Xa^JCiS S kpyuljivTo' jiiXag cT ova soke aidrjpog. 

Hesiod, "Epya. sat 'H/u-epot. 

The Abbe Raynal contends that the ignorance of iron must necessa- 
rily have kept the Mexicans in a low state of civilization, since without 
it "they could have produced no work in metal, worth looking at, 
no masonry nor architecture, engraving nor sculpture." (History of 
the Indies, Eng. trans., vol. iii. b. 6.) Iron, however, if known, was 
little used by the ancient Egyptians, whose mighty monuments were 
hewn with bronze tools ; while their weapons and domestic utensils 
were of the same material, as appears from the green color given to 
them in their paintings. 

J 5 Gama, Descripcion, Parte 2, pp. 25-29. — Torquemada, Monarch. 
Ind., ubi supra. 



delicate manner. Some of the silver vases were so 
large that a man could not encircle them with his 
arms. They imitated very nicely the figures of animals, 
and, what was extraordinary, could mix the metals in 
such a manner that the feathers of a bird, or the scales 
of a fish, should be alternately of gold and silver. The 
Spanish goldsmiths admitted their superiority over 
themselves in these ingenious works. 16 

They employed another tool, made of itztli, or 
obsidian, a dark transparent mineral, exceedingly hard, 
found in abundance in their hills. They made it into 
knives, razors, and their serrated swords. It took a 
keen edge, though soon blunted. With this they 
wrought the various stones and alabasters employed in 
the construction of their public works and principal 
dwellings. I shall defer a more particular account of 
these to the body of the narrative, and will only add 
here that the entrances and angles of the buildings were 
profusely ornamented with images, sometimes of their 
fantastic deities, and frequently of animals. 17 The latter 
were executed with great accuracy. ''The former," 

16 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 9, cap. 15-17. — Boturini, 
Idea, p. tj. — Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., loc. cit. — Herrera, who 
says they could also enamel, commends the skill of the Mexican gold- 
smiths in making birds and animals with movable wings and limbs, in 
a most curious fashion. (Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 7, cap. 15.) Sir 
John Maundeville, as usual, 

" with his hair on end 
At his own wonders," 

notices the " gret marvayle" of similar pieces of mechanism at the 
court of the grand Chane of Cathay. See his Voiage and Travaile, 
chap. 20. 

*7 Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 7, cap. 11. — Torquemada, 
Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 34. — Gama, Descripcion, Parte 2, pp. 27, 28. 


according to Torquemada, "were the hideous reflection 
of their own souls. And it was not till after they had 
been converted to Christianity that they could model 
the true figure of a man."' 8 The old chronicler's facts 
are well founded, whatever we may think of his reasons. 
The allegorical phantasms of his religion, no doubt, 
gave a direction to the Aztec artist, in his delineation 
of the human figure ; supplying him with an imaginary 
beauty in the personification of divinity itself. As 
these superstitions lost their hold on his mind, it opened 
to the influences of a purer taste ; and, after the Con- 
quest, the Mexicans furnished many examples of correct, 
and some of beautiful, portraiture. 

Sculptured images were so numerous that the founda- 
tions of the cathedral in the plaza mayor, the great 
square of Mexico, are said to be entirely composed of 
them. 19 This spot may, indeed, be regarded as the 
Aztec forum, — the great depository of the treasures of 
ancient sculpture, which now lie hid in its bosom. 
Such monuments are spread all over the capital, how- 
ever, and a new cellar can hardly be dug, or founda- 
tion laid, without turning up some of the mouldering 
relics of barbaric art. But they are little heeded, and, 
if not wantonly broken in pieces at once, are usually 
worked into the rising wall or supports of the new 
edifice. 20 Two celebrated bas-reliefs of the last Mon- 

18 « Parece, que permitia Dios, que la figura de sus cuerpos se 
asimilase a la que tenian sus almas porel pecado, en que siempre per- 
manecian." Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 34. 

»9 Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. p. 195. 

20 Gama, Descripcion, Parte 1, p. 1. Besides the plaza mayor, Gama 
points out the Square of Tlatelolco, as a great cemetery of ancient 
relics. It was the quarter to which the Mexicans retreated, on the 
siege of the capital. 



tezuma and his father, cut in the solid rock, in the 
beautiful groves of Chapoltepec, were deliberately de- 
stroyed, as late as the last century, by order of the 
government ! 2I The monuments of the barbarian meet 
with as little respect from civilized man as those of the 
civilized man from the barbarian. 2 * 

The most remarkable piece of sculpture yet disin- 
terred is the great calendar-stone, noticed in the pre- 
ceding chapter. It consists of dark porphyry, and in 
its original dimensions, as taken from the quarry, is 
computed to have weighed nearly fifty tons. It was 
transported from the mountains beyond Lake Chalco, 
a distance of many leagues, over a broken country in- 
teisected by water-courses and canals. In crossing a 
bridge which traversed one of these latter, in the capi- 
tal, the supports gave way, and the huge mass was 
precipitated into the water, whence it was with diffi- 
culty recovered. The fact that so enormous a fragment 
of porphyry could be thus safely carried for leagues, in 
the face of such obstacles, and without the aid of cattle, 
— for the Aztecs, as already mentioned, had no animals 
of draught, — suggests to us no mean ideas of their 
mechanical skill and of their machinery, and implies a 
degiee of cultivation little inferior to that demanded 

31 Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 34. — Gama, Descrip- 
tion, Parte 2, pp. 81-83. — These statues are repeatedly noticed by the 
old writers. The last was destroyed in 1754, when it was seen by 
Gama, who highly commends the execution of it. Ibid. 

22 This wantonness of destruction provokes the bitter animadversion 
of Martyr, whose enlightened mind respected the vestiges of civiliza- 
tion wherever found. "The conquerors," he says, "seldom repaired 
the buildings that were defaced. They would rather sack twenty 
stately cities than erect one good edifice." De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, 
cap. 10. 

Vol. I. — G 13 


for the geometrical and astronomical science displayed 
in the inscriptions on this very stone. 23 

The ancient Mexicans made utensils of earthen-ware 
for the ordinary purposes of domestic life, numerous 
specimens of which still exist. 24 They made cups and 
vases of a lackered or painted wood, impervious to wet 
and gaudily colored. Their dyes were obtained from 
both mineral and vegetable substances. Among them 
was the rich crimson of the cochineal, the modern rival 
of the famed Tyrian purple. It was introduced into 
Europe from Mexico, where the curious little insect 
was nourished with great care on plantations of cactus, 
since fallen into neglect. 23 The natives were thus 
enabled to give a brilliant coloring to the webs which 
were manufactured, of every degree of fineness, from 
the cotton raised in abundance throughout the warmer 
regions of the country. They had the art, also, of 
interweaving with these the delicate hair of rabbits and 
other animals, which made a cloth of great warmth as 

s 3 Gama, Description, Parte I, pp. 110-114. — Humboldt, Essai 
politique, torn. ii. p. 40. — Ten thousand men were employed in the 
transportation of this enormous mass, according to Tezozomoc, whose 
narrative, with all the accompanying prodigies, is minutely trans- 
scribed by Bustamante. The Licentiate shows an appetite for the 
marvellous which might excite the envy of a monk of the Middle 
Ages. (See Descripcion, nota, loc. cit.) The English traveller La- 
trobe accommodates the wonders of nature and art very well to each 
other, by suggesting that these great masses of stone were transported 
by means of the mastodon, whose remains are occasionally disinterred 
in the Mexican Valley. Rambler in Mexico, p. 145. 

=4 A great collection of ancient pottery, with various other specimens 
of Aztec art, the gift of Messrs. Poinsett and Keating,, is deposited in 
the Cabinet of the American Philosophical Society, at Philadelphia. 
See the Catalogue, ap. Transactions, vol. iii. p. 510. 

2 S Hernandez, Hist. Plantarum, lib. 6, cap. 116. 



well as beauty, of a kind altogether original ; and on 
this they often laid a rich embroidery, of birds, flowers, 
or some other fanciful device. 26 

But the art in which they most delighted was their 
plumaje, or feather-work. With this they could pro- 
duce all the effect of a beautiful mosaic. The gorgeous 
plumage of the tropical birds, especially of the parrot 
tribe, afforded every variety of color; and the fine 
down of the humming-bird, which revelled in swarms 
among the honeysuckle bowers of Mexico, supplied 
them with soft aerial tints that gave an exquisite finish 
to the picture. The feathers, pasted on a fine cotton 
web, were wrought into dresses for the wealthy, hang- 
ings for apartments, and ornaments for the temples. 
No one of the American fabrics excited such admira- 
tion in Europe, whither numerous specimens were sent 
by the Conquerors. It is to be regretted that so graceful 
an art should have been suffered to fall into decay. 27 

26 Carta del Lie. Zuazo, MS. — Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 7, 
cap. 15. — Boturini, Idea, p. 77. — It is doubtful how far they were 
acquainted with the manufacture of silk. Carli supposes that what 
Cortes calls silk was only the fine texture of hair, or down, mentioned 
in the text. (Lettres Americaines, torn, i. let. 21.) But it is certain 
they had a species of caterpillar, unlike our silkworm, indeed, which 
spun a thread that was sold in the markets of ancient Mexico. See 
the Essai politique (torn. iii. pp. 66-69), where M. de Humboldt has 
collected some interesting facts in regard to the culture of silk by the 
Aztecs. Still, that the fabric should be a matter of uncertainty at all 
shows that it could not have reached any great excellence or extent. 

»7 Carta del Lie. Zuazo, MS. — Acosta, lib. 4, cap. 37. — Sahagun, 
Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 9, cap. 18-21. — Toribio, Hist, de los In- 
dios, MS., Parte 1, cap. 15. — Rel. d'un gentil' huomo, ap. Ramusio, 
torn. iii. fol. 306. — Count Carli is in raptures with a specimen of feather- 
painting which he saw in Strasbourg. " Never did I behold anything 
so exquisite," he says, " for brilliancy and nice gradation of color, and 


There were no shops in Mexico, but the various 
manufactures and agricultural products were brought 
together for sale in the great market-places of the prin- 
cipal cities. Fairs were held there every fifth day, 
and were thronged by a numerous concourse of per- 
sons, who came to buy or sell from all the neighboring 
country. A particular quarter was allotted to each 
kind of article. The numerous transactions were con- 
ducted without confusion, and with entire regard to 
justice, under the inspection of magistrates appointed 
for the purpose. The traffic was carried on partly by 
barter, and partly by means of a regulated currency, 
of different values. This consisted of transparent quills 
of gold dust ; of bits of tin, cut in the form of a J; 
and of bags of cacao, containing a specified number 
of grains. " Blessed money," exclaims Peter Martyr, 
"which exempts its possessors from avarice, since it 
cannot be long hoarded, nor hidden under ground !" 28 

There did not exist in Mexico that distinction of 
castes found among the Egyptian and Asiatic nations. 

for beauty of design. No European artist could have made such a 
thing." (Lettres Americaines, let. 21, note.) There is still one place, 
Patzquaro, where, according to Bustamante, they preserve some knowl- 
edge of this interesting art, though it is practised on a very limited 
scale and at great cost. Sahagun, ubi supra, nota. 

28 " O felicem monetam, quae suavem utilemque praebet humano 
generi potum, et a tartarea, peste avaritias suos immunes servat pos- 
sessores, quod suffodi aut diu servari nequeat !" De Orbe Novo, dec. 
5, cap. 4. — (See, also, Carta de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, p. 100, et seq. 
— Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 8, cap. 36. — Toribio, Hist, de 
los Indios, MS., Parte 3, cap. 8. — Carta del Lie. Zuazo, MS.) The 
substitute for money throughout the Chinese empire was equally simple 
in Marco Polo's time, consisting of bits of stamped paper, made from 
the inner bark of the mulberry-tree. See Viaggi di Messer Marco 
Polo, gentil' huomo Venetiano, lib. 2, cap. 18, ap. Ramusio, torn. ii. 



It was usual, however, for the son to follow the occupa- 
tion of his father. The different trades were arranged 
into something like guilds; each having a particular 
district of the city appropriated to it, with its own 
chief, its own tutelar deity, its peculiar festivals, and 
the like. Trade was held in avowed estimation by 
the Aztecs. "Apply thyself, my son," was the ad- 
vice of an aged chief, " to agriculture, or to feather- 
work, or some other honorable calling. Thus did 
your ancestors before you. Else how would they have 
provided for themselves and their families? Never 
was it heard that nobility alone was able to maintain 
its possessor. ' ' ** Shrewd maxims, that must have 
sounded somewhat strange in the ear of a Spanish 
hidalgo / 3 ° 

But the occupation peculiarly respected was that of 
the merchant. It formed so important and singular a 
feature of their social economy as to merit a much 
more particular notice than it has received from his- 
torians. The Aztec merchant was a sort of itinerant 
trader, who made his journeys to the remotest borders 
of Anahuac, and to the countries beyond, carrying 
with him merchandise of rich stuffs, jewelry, slaves, 
and other valuable commodities. The slaves were 
obtained at the great market of Azcapozalco, not many 
leagues from the capital, where fairs were regularly 

=9 " Procurad de saber algun oficio honroso, como es el hacer obras 
de pluma y otros oficios mecanicos. . . . Mirad que tengais cuidado 
de lo tocante & la agricultura. . . . En ninguna parte he visto que 
alguno se mantenga por su nobleza," Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva- 
Espafia, lib. 6, cap. 17. 

30 Col. de Mendoza, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. i. PI. 71 ; vol. vi. p. 
86. — Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 2, cap. 41. 


held for the sale of these unfortunate beings. They 
were brought thither by their masters, dressed in their 
gayest apparel, and instructed to sing, dance, and dis- 
play their little stock of personal accomplishments, so 
as to recommend themselves to the purchaser. Slave- 
dealing was an honorable calling among the Aztecs. 31 

With this rich freight, the merchant visited the dif- 
ferent provinces, always bearing some present of value 
from his own sovereign to their chiefs, and usually 
receiving others in return, with a permission to trade. 
Should this be denied him, or should he meet with 
indignity or violence, he had the means of resistance 
in his power. He performed his journeys with a num- 
ber of companions of his own rank, and a large body 
of inferior attendants who were employed to transport 
the goods. Fifty or sixty pounds were the usual load 
for a man. The whole caravan went armed, and so 
well provided against sudden hostilities that they could 
make good their defence, if necessary, till reinforced 
from home. In one instance, a body of these militant 
traders stood a siege of four years in the town of Ayot- 
lan, which they finally took from the enemy. 32 Their 
own government, however, was always prompt to em- 
bark in a war on this ground, finding it a very conve- 
nient pretext for extending the Mexican empire. It 
was not unusual to allow the merchants to raise levies 
themselves, which were placed under their command. 
It was, moreover, very common for the prince to em- 
ploy the merchants as a sort of spies, to furnish him 
information of the state of the countries through which 

31 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 9, cap. 4, 10-14. 
3* Ibid., lib. 9, cap. 2. 


they passed, and the dispositions of the inhabitants 
towards himself. 33 

Thus their sphere of action was much enlarged be- 
yond that of a humble trader, and they acquired a high 
consideration in the body politic. They were allowed 
to assume insignia and devices of their own. Some 
of their number composed what is called by the Span- 
ish writers a council of finance ; at least, this was the 
case in Tezcuco. 34 They were much consulted by the 
monarch, who had some of them constantly near his 
person, addressing them by the title of " uncle," which 
may remind one of that of primo, or "cousin/' by 
which a grandee of Spain is saluted by his sovereign. 
They were allowed to have their own courts, in which 
civil and criminal cases, not excepting capital, were 
determined ; so that they formed an independent com- 
munity, as it were, of themselves. And, as their va- 
rious traffic supplied them with abundant stores of 
wealth, they enjoyed many of the most essential ad- 
vantages of an hereditary aristocracy. 3S 

33 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 9, cap. 2, 4. — In the Men- 
doza Codex is a painting representing the execution of a cacique and 
his family, with the destruction of his city, for maltreating the persons 
of some Aztec merchants. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. i. PI. 67. 

34 Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 2, cap. 41. — Ixtlilxochitl gives 
a curious story of one of the royal family of Tezcuco, who offered, 
with two other merchants, otros mercaderes, to visit the court of a 
hostile cacique and bring him dead or alive to the capital. They 
availed themselves of a drunken revel, at which they were to have 
been sacrificed, to effect their object. Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 62. 

35 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 9, cap. 2, 5. — The ninth 
book is taken up with an account of the merchants, their pilgrimages, 
the religious rites on their departure, and the sumptuous way of living 
on their return. The whole presents a very remaikable picture, show- 

I 5 2 


That trade should prove the path to eminent political 
preferment in a nation but partially civilized, where 
the names of soldier and priest are usually the only 
titles to respect, is certainly an anomaly in history. 
It forms some contrast to the standard of the more 
polished monarchies of the Old World, in which rank 
is supposed to be less dishonored by a life of idle ease 
or frivolous pleasure than by those active pursuits which 
promote equally the prosperity of the state and of the 
individual. If civilization corrects many prejudices, 
it must be allowed that it creates others. 

We shall be able to form a better idea of the actual 
refinement of the natives by penetrating into their 
domestic life and observing the intercourse between 
the sexes. We have, fortunately, the means of doing 
this. We shall there find the ferocious Aztec frequently 
displaying all the sensibility of a cultivated nature; 
consoling his friends under affliction, or congratulating 
them on their good fortune, as on occasion of a mar- 
riage, or of the birth or the baptism of a child, when 
he was punctilious in his visits, bringing presents of 
costly dresses and ornaments, or the more simple offer- 
ing of flowers, equally indicative of his sympathy. 
The visits at these times, though regulated with all the 
precision of Oriental courtesy, were accompanied by 
expressions of the most cordial and affectionate regard. 36 

ing they enjoyed a consideration, among the half-civilized nations of 
Anahuac, to which there is no parallel, unless it be that possessed by 
the merchant-princes of an Italian republic, or the princely merchants 
of our own. 

3 6 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 6, cap. 23-37. — Camargo, 
Hist, de Tlascala, MS. — These complimentary attentions were paid at 
stated seasons, even during pregnancy. The details are given with 



The discipline of children, especially at the public 
schools, as stated in a previous chapter, was exceed- 
ingly severe. 37 But after she had come to a mature 
age the Aztec maiden was treated by her parents with 
a tenderness from which all reserve seemed banished. 
In the counsels to a daughter about to enter into life, 
they conjured her to preserve simplicity in her manners 
and conversation, uniform neatness in her attire, with 
strict attention to personal cleanliness. They incul- 
cated modesty, as the great ornament of a woman, and 
implicit reverence for her husband; softening their 
admonitions by such endearing epithets as showed the 
fulness of a parent's love. 38 

abundant gravity and minuteness by Sahagun, who descends to par- 
ticulars which his Mexican editor, Bustamante, has excluded, as some- 
what too unreserved for the public eye. If they were more so than 
some of the editor's own notes, they must have been very communi- 
cative indeed. 

37 Zurita, Rapport, pp. 112-134. — The Third Part of the Col. de 
Mendoza (Antiq. of Mexico, vol. i.) exhibits the various ingenious 
punishments devised for the refractory child. The flowery path of 
knowledge was well strewed with thorns for the Mexican tyro. 

3 8 Zurita, Rapport, pp. 151-160. — Sahagun has given us the admo- 
nitions of both father and mother to the Aztec maiden on her coming 
to years of discretion. What can be more tender than the beginning 
of the mother's exhortation? " Hija mia muy amada, muy querida 
palomita : ya has oido y notado las palabras que tu senor padre te ha 
dicho ; ellas son palabras preciosas, y que raramente se dicen ni se 
oyen, las quales han procedido de las entranas y corazon en que 
estaban atesoradas ; y tu muy amado padre bien sabe que eres su 
hija, engendrada de el, eres su sangre y su carne, y sabe Dios nuestro 
senor que es asi ; aunque eres muger, e imdgen de tu padre 1 que mas 
te puedo decir, hija mia, de lo que ya esta dicho?" (Hist, de Nueva- 
Espafia, lib. 6, cap. 19.) The reader will find this interesting docu- 
ment, which enjoins so much of what is deemed most essential among 
civilized nations, translated entire in the Appendix, Part 2, No. I. 



Polygamy was permitted among the Mexicans, though 
chiefly confined, probably, to the wealthiest classes. 39 
And the obligations of the married vow, which was 
made with all the formality of a religious ceremony, 
were fully recognized, and impressed on both parties. 
The women are described by the Spaniards as pretty, 
unlike their unfortunate descendants of the present 
day, though with the same serious and rather melan- 
choly cast of countenance. Their long black hair, 
covered, in some parts of the country, by a veil made 
of the fine web of the pita, might generally be seen 
wreathed with flowers, or, among the richer people, 
with strings of precious stones, and pearls from the 
Gulf of California. They appear to have been treated 
with much consideration by their husbands, and passed 
their time in indolent tranquillity, or in such feminine 
occupations as spinning, embroidery, and the like, 
while their maidens beguiled the hours by the rehearsal 
of traditionary tales and ballads. 40 

The women partook equally with the men of social 
festivities and entertainments. These were often con- 
ducted on a large scale, both as regards the number of 
guests and the costliness of the preparations. Numer- 
ous attendants, of both sexes, waited at the banquet. 

39 Yet we find the remarkable declaration, in the counsels of a father 
to his son, that, for the multiplication of the species, God ordained 
one man only for one woman. " Nota, hijo mio, lo que te digo, mira 
que el mundo ya tiene este estilo de engendrar y multiplicar, y para 
esta generacion y multiplicacion, ordeno Dios que una muger usase 
de un varon, y un varon de una muger." Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva- 
Espafia, lib. 6, cap. si. 

#> Ibid., lib. 6, cap. 21-23 '< W 5 - 8, cap. 23. — Rel. d'un gentil' huomo, 
ap. Ramusio, torn. iii. fol. 305. — Carta del Lie. Zuazo, MS. 



The halls were scented with perfumes, and the courts 
strewed with odoriferous herbs and flowers, which were 
distributed in profusion among the guests, as they 
arrived. Cotton napkins and ewers of water were 
placed before them, as they took their seats at the 
board; for the venerable ceremony of ablution 41 be- 
fore and after eating was punctiliously observed by the 
Aztecs. 42 Tobacco was then offered to the company, 
in pipes, mixed up with aromatic substances, or in the 
form of cigars, inserted in tubes of tortoise-shell or 
silver. They compressed the nostrils with the fingers, 
while they inhaled the smoke, which they frequently 

4* As old as the heroic age of Greece, at least. We may fancy 
ourselves at the table of Penelope, where water in golden ewers was 
poured into silver basins for the accommodation of her guests, before 
beginning the repast : 

" Xepvcj3a 6' ufKp'nToTiog npoxou) kitfx^s <(>spovaa 
KaXrj, xp^OELi), imep apyvpeow ?Jj3T]Tog, 
Nfyaatfat • napa de §eoT7jv havvaae TpaTvefcv." 

OAY22. A. 
The feast affords many other points of analogy to the Aztec, inferring 
a similar stage of civilization in the two nations. One may be sur- 
prised, however, to find a greater profusion of the precious metals in 
the barren isle of Ithaca than in Mexico. But the poet's fancy was a 
richer mine than either. 

4= Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 6, cap. 22. — Amidst some 
excellent advice of a parent to his son, on his general deportment, 
we find the latter punctiliously enjoined not to take his seat at the 
board till he has washed his face and hands, and not to leave it till he 
has repeated the same thing, and cleansed his teeth. The directions 
are given with a precision worthy of an Asiatic. " Al principio de la 
comida labarte has las manos y la boca, y donde te juntares con otros 
a comer, no te sientes luego ; mas antes tomaras el agua y la jicara 
para que se laben los otros, y echarles has agua a los manos, y despues 
de esto, cojeras lo que se ha caido por el suelo y barreras el lugar de 
la comida, y tambien despues de comer lavards te las manos y la boca, 
y limpiar&s los dientes." Ibid., loc. cit. 


swallowed. Whether the women, who sat apart from 
the men at table, were allowed the indulgence of the 
fragrant weed, as in the most polished circles of modern 
Mexico, is not told us. It is a curious fact that the 
Aztecs also took the dried leaf in the pulverized form 
of snuff. 43 

The table was well provided with substantial meats, 
especially game ; among which the most conspicuous 
was the turkey, erroneously supposed, as its name im- 
ports, to have come originally from the East. 44 These 

+3 Rel. d'un gentil' huomo, ap. Ramusio, torn. iii. fol. 306. — 
Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espafia, lib. 4, cap. 37. — Torquemada, 
Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 23. — Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, torn, 
ii. p. 227. — The Aztecs used to smoke after dinner, to prepare for the 
siesta, in which they indulged themselves as regularly as an old Cas- 
tilian. — Tobacco, in Mexican yetl, is derived from a Haytian word, 
tabaco. The natives of Hispaniola, being the first with whom the 
Spaniards had much intercourse, have supplied Europe with the names 
of several important plants. — Tobacco, in some form or other, was 
used by almost all the tribes of the American continent, from the 
Northwest Coast to Patagonia. (See McCulloh, Researches, pp. 91- 
94.) Its manifold virtues, both social and medicinal, are profusely 
panegyrized by Hernandez, in his Hist. Plantarum, lib. 2, cap. 109. 

44 This noble bird was introduced into Europe from Mexico. The 
Spaniards called it gallopavo, from its resemblance to the peacock. 
See Rel. d'un gentil' huomo, ap. Ramusio (torn. iii. fol. 306) ; also 
Oviedo (Rel. Sumaria, cap. 38), the earliest naturalist who gives an 
account of the bird, which he saw soon after the Conquest, in the 
West Indies, whither it had been brought, as he says, from New Spain. 
The Europeans, however, soon lost sight of its origin, and the name 
" turkey" intimated the popular belief of its Eastern origin. Several 
eminent writers have maintained its Asiatic or African descent ; but 
they could not impose on the sagacious and better-instructed Buffon. 
(See Histoire naturelle, art. Dindon.) The Spaniards saw immense 
numbers of turkeys in the domesticated state, on their arrival in 
Mexico, where they were more common than any other poultry. 
They were found wild, not only in New Spain, but all along the con- 


more solid dishes were flanked by others of vegetables 
and fruits, of every delicious variety found on the 
North American continent. The different viands were 
prepared in various ways, with delicate sauces and sea- 
soning, of which the Mexicans were very fond. Their 
palate was still further regaled by confections and pas- 
try, for which their maize-flour and sugar supplied 
ample materials. One other dish, of a disgusting 
nature, was sometimes added to the feast, especially 
when the celebration partook of a religious character. 
On such occasions a slave was sacrificed, and his flesh, 
elaborately dressed, formed one of the chief ornaments 
of the banquet. Cannibalism, in the guise of an 
Epicurean science, becomes even the more revolting. 43 
The meats were kept warm by chafing-dishes. The 
table was ornamented with vases of silver, and some- 
times gold, of delicate workmanship. The drinking- 
cups and spoons were of the same costly materials, and 
likewise of tortoise-shell. The favorite beverage was 
the chocolatl, flavored with vanilla and different spices. 

tinent, in the less frequented places, from the Northwestern territory 
of the United States to Panama. The wild turkey is larger, more 
beautiful, and every way an incomparably finer bird than the tame. 
Franklin, with some point, as well as pleasantry, insists on its prefer- 
ence to the bald eagle as the national emblem. (See his Works, vol. 
x. p. 63, in Sparks's excellent edition.) Interesting notices of the 
history and habits of the wild turkey may be found in the Ornithology 
both of Buonaparte and of that enthusiastic lover of nature, Audubon, 
vox Meleagris, Gallopavo. 

45 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 4, cap. 37 ; lib. 8, cap. 13 ; 
lib. 9, cap. 10-14. — Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 23. — 
Rel. d'un gentil' huomo, ap. Ramusio, torn. iii. fol. 306. — Father Sa- 
hagun has gone into many particulars of the Aztec cuisine, and the 
mode of preparing sundry savory messes, making, all together, no 
despicable contribution to the noble science of gastronomy. 
Vol. I. 14 


They had a way of preparing the froth of it, so as to 
make it almost solid enough to be eaten, and took it 
cold. 46 The fermented juice of the maguey, with 
a mixture of sweets and acids, supplied, also, various 
agreeable drinks, of different degrees of strength, and 
formed the chief beverage of the elder part of the 
company. 47 

As soon as they had finished their repast, the young 
people rose from the table, to close the festivities of 
the day with dancing. They danced gracefully, to 
the sound of various instruments, accompanying their 
movements with chants of a pleasing though somewhat 
plaintive character. 48 The older guests continued at 

4 s The froth, delicately flavored with spices and some other ingre- 
dients, was taken cold by itself. It had the consistency almost of a 
solid ; and the " Anonymous Conqueror" is very careful to inculcate 
the importance of " opening the mouth wide, in order to facilitate 
deglutition, that the foam may dissolve gradually, and descend imper- 
ceptibly, as it were, into the stomach." It was so nutritious that a 
single cup of it was enough to sustain a man through the longest day's 
march. (Fol. 306.) The old soldier discusses the beverage con amore. 

47 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espafia, lib. 4, cap. 37 ; lib. 8, cap. 13. 
— Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 23. — Rel. d'un gentil' 
huomo, ap. Ramusio, torn. iii. fol. 306. 

48 Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 7, cap. 8. — Torquemada, Mo- 
narch. Ind., lib. 14, cap. 11. — The Mexican nobles entertained minstrels 
in their houses, who composed ballads suited to the times, or the 
achievements of their lord, which they chanted, to the accompaniment 
of instruments, at the festivals and dances. Indeed, there was more 
or less dancing at most of the festivals, and it was performed in the 
court-yards of the houses, or in the open squares of the city. (Ibid., 
ubi supra.) The principal men had, also, buffoons and jugglers in 
their service, who amused them and astonished the Spaniards by their 
feats of dexterity and strength (Acosta, lib. 6, cap. 28 ; also Clavi- 
gero (Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. pp. 179-186), who has designed sev- 
eral representations of their exploits, truly surprising.) It is natural 



table, sipping pulque, and gossiping about other times, 
till the virtues of the exhilarating beverage put them 
in good humor with their own. Intoxication was not 
rare in this part of the company, and, what is singular, 
was excused in them, though severely punished in the 
younger. The entertainment was concluded by a lib- 
eral distribution of rich dresses and ornaments among 
the guests, when they withdrew, after midnight, "some 
commending the feast, and others condemning the bad 
taste or extravagance of their host ; in the same man- 
ner," says an old Spanish writer, "as with us." 49 
Human nature is, indeed, much the same all the world 

In this remarkable picture of manners, which I have 
copied faithfully from the records of earliest date after 
the Conquest, we find no resemblance to the other 
races of North American Indians. Some resemblance 
we may trace to the general style of Asiatic pomp and 
luxury. But in Asia, woman, far from being admitted 
to unreserved intercourse with the other sex, is too 
often jealously immured within the walls of the harem. 
European civilization, which accords to this loveliest 
portion of creation her proper rank in the social scale, 
is still more removed from some of the brutish usages 

that a people of limited refinement should find their enjoyment in 
material rather than intellectual pleasures, and, consequently, should 
excel in them. The Asiatic nations, as the Hindoos and Chinese, for 
example, surpass the more polished Europeans in displays of agility 
and legerdemain. 

49 " Y de esta manera pasaban gran rato de la noche, y se despe- 
dian, e iban a sus casas, unos alabando la fiesta, y otros murmurando 
de las demasias y excesos, cosa mui ordinaria en los que a seme- 
jantes actos se juntan." Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 
23. — Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 9, cap. 10-14. 


of the Aztecs. That such usages should have existed 
with the degree of refinement they showed in other 
things is almost inconceivable. It can only be ex- 
plained as the result of religious superstition ; super- 
stition which clouds the moral perception, and perverts 
even the natural senses, till man, civilized man, is rec- 
onciled to the very things which are most revolting to 
humanity. Habits and opinions founded on religion 
must not be taken as conclusive evidence of the actual 
refinement of a people. 

The Aztec character was perfectly original and 
unique. It was made up of incongruities apparently 
irreconcilable. It blended into one the marked pecu- 
liarities of different nations, not only of the same 
phase of civilization, but as far removed from each 
other as the extremes of barbarism and refinement. 
It may find a fitting parallel in their own wonderful 
climate, capable of producing, on a few square leagues 
of surface, the boundless variety of vegetable forms 
which belong to the frozen regions of the North, the 
temperate zone of Europe, and the burning skies of 
Arabia and Hindostan. 

One of the works repeatedly consulted and referred to in this Intro- 
duction is Boturini's Idea de una nueva Historia general de la America 
Septentrional. The singular persecutions sustained by its author, even 
more than the merits of his book, have associated his name insepa- 
rably with the literary history of Mexico. The Chevalier Lorenzo 
Boturini Benaduci was a Milanese by birth, of an ancient family, and 
possessed of much learning. From Madrid, where he was residing, he 
passed over to New Spain, in 1735, on some business of the Countess 
of Santibanez, a lineal descendant of Montezuma. While employed 
on this, he visited the celebrated shrine of Our Lady of Guadaloupe, 


and, being a person of devout and enthusiastic temper, was filled with 
the desire of collecting testimony to establish the marvellous fact of 
her apparition. In the course of his excursions, made with this view, 
he fell in with many relics of Aztec antiquity, and conceived — what 
to a Protestant, at least, would seem much more rational — the idea 
of gathering together all the memorials he could meet with of the 
primitive civilization of the land. 

In pursuit of this double object, he penetrated into the remotest 
parts of the country, living much with the natives, passing his nights 
sometimes in their huts, sometimes in caves and the depths of the 
lonely forests. Frequently months would elapse without his being 
able to add anything to his collection ; for the Indians had suffered 
too much not to be very shy of Europeans. His long intercourse 
with them, however, gave him ample opportunity to learn their lan- 
guage and popular traditions, and, in the end, to amass a large stock 
of materials, consisting of hieroglyphical charts on cotton, skins, and 
the fibre of the maguey; besides a considerable body of Indian man- 
uscripts, written after the Conquest. To all these must be added the 
precious documents for placing beyond controversy the miraculous 
apparition of the Virgin. With this treasure he returned, after a 
pilgrimage of eight years, to the capital. 

His zeal, in the mean while, had induced him to procure from Rome 
a bull authorizing the coronation of the sacred image at Guadaloupe. 
The bull, however, though sanctioned by the Audience of New Spain, 
had never been approved by the Council of the Indies. In conse- 
quence of this informality, Boturini was arrested in the midst of his 
proceedings, his papers were taken from him, and, as he declined to 
give an inventory of them, he was thrown into prison, and confined 
in the same apartment with two criminals I Not long afterward he 
was sent to Spain. He there presented a memorial to the Council of 
the Indies, setting forth his manifold grievances, and soliciting redress. 
At the same time, he drew up his " Idea," above noticed, in which he 
displayed the catalogue of his museum in New Spain, declaring, with 
affecting earnestness, that " he would not exchange these treasures for 
all the gold and silver, diamonds and pearls, in the New World." 

After some delay, the Council gave an award in his favor; acquit- 
ting him of any intentional violation of the law, and pronouncing a 
high encomium on his deserts. His papers, however, were not re- 
stored. But his Majesty was graciously pleased to appoint him Histo- 
riographer-General of the Indies, with a salary of one thousand dollars 



per annum. The stipend was too small to allow him to return to 
Mexico. He remained in Madrid, and completed there the first 
volume of a " General History of North America," in 1749. Not long 
after this event, and before the publication of the work, he died. The 
same injustice was continued to his heirs ; and, notwithstanding re- 
peated applications in their behalf, they were neither put in possession 
of their unfortunate kinsman's collection, nor received a remuneration 
for it. What was worse, — as far as the public was concerned, — the 
collection itself was deposited in apartments of the vice-regal palace 
at Mexico, so damp that they gradually fell to pieces, and the few 
remaining were still further diminished by the pilfering of the curious. 
When Baron Humboldt visited Mexico, not one-eighth of this inesti- 
mable treasure was in existence! 

I have been thus particular in the account of the unfortunate Botu- 
rini, as affording, on the whole, the most remarkable example of the 
serious obstacles and persecutions which literary enterprise, directed 
in the path of the national antiquities, has, from some cause or other, 
been exposed to in New Spain. 

Boturini's manuscript volume was never printed, and probably never 
will be, if indeed it is in existence. This will scarcely prove a great 
detriment to science or to his own reputation. He was a man of a 
zealous temper, strongly inclined to the marvellous, with little of that 
acuteness requisite for penetrating the tangled mazes of antiquity, or 
of the philosophic spirit fitted for calmly weighing its doubts and 
difficulties. His " Idea " affords a sample of his peculiar mind. With 
abundant learning, ill assorted and ill digested, it is a jumble of fact 
and puerile fiction, interesting details, crazy dreams, and fantastic 
theories. But it is hardly fair to judge by the strict rules of criticism 
a work which, put together hastily, as a catalogue of literary treasures, 
was designed by the author rather to show what might be done, than 
that he could do it himself. It is rare that talents for action and con- 
templation are united in the same individual. Boturini was eminently 
qualified, by his enthusiasm and perseverance, for collecting the mate- 
rials necessary to illustrate the antiquities of the country. It requires 
a more highly gifted mind to avail itself of them. 



The reader would gather but an imperfect notion of 
the civilization of Anahuac, without some account of 
the Acolhuans, or Tezcucans, as they are usually called ; 
a nation of the same great family with the Aztecs, 
whom they rivalled in power and surpassed in intel- 
lectual culture and the arts of social refinement. 
Fortunately, we have ample materials for this in the 
records left by Ixtlilxochitl, a lineal descendant of the 
royal line of Tezcuco, who flourished in the century 
of the Conquest. With every opportunity for infor- 
mation he combined much industry and talent, and, 
if his narrative bears the high coloring of one who 
would revive the faded glories of an ancient but dilapi- 
dated house, he has been uniformly commended for 
his fairness and integrity, and has been followed with- 
out misgiving by such Spanish writers as could have 
access to his manuscripts.* I shall confine myself to 
the prominent features of the two reigns which may be 
said to embrace the golden age of Tezcuco, without 
attempting to weigh the probability of the details, 
which I will leave to be settled by the reader, accord- 
ing to the measure of his faith. 

1 For a criticism on this writer, see the Postscript to this chapter. 



The Acolhuans came into the Valley, as we have 
seen, about the close of the twelfth century, and built 
their capital of Tezcuco on the eastern borders of the 
lake, opposite to Mexico. From this point they 
gradually spread themselves over the northern portion 
of Anahuac, when their career was checked by an in- 
vasion of a kindred race, the Tepanecs, who, after a 
desperate struggle, succeeded in taking their city, slay- 
ing their monarch, and entirely subjugating his king- 
dom. 2 This event took place about 1418; and the 
young prince, Nezahualcoyotl, the heir to the crown, 
then fifteen years old, saw his father butchered before 
his eyes, while he himself lay concealed among the 
friendly branches of a tree which overshadowed the 
spot. 3 His subsequent history is as full of romantic 
daring and perilous escapes as that of the renowned 
Scanderbeg or of the " young Chevalier." * 

Not long after his flight from the field of his father's 
blood, the Tezcucan prince fell into the hands of his 
enemy, was borne off in triumph to his city, and 
was thrown into a dungeon. He effected his escape, 
however, through the connivance of the governor of 
the fortress, an old servant of his family, who took the 
place of the royal fugitive, and paid for his loyalty 
with his life. He was at length permitted, through 

8 See Chapter I. of this Introduction, p. 17. 

3 Ixtlilxochitl, Relaciones, MS., No. 9. — Idem, Hist. Chich., MS., 
cap. 19. 

4 The adventures of the former hero are told with his usual spirit by 
Sismondi (Republiques Italiennes, chap. 79). It is hardly necessary, 
for the latter, to refer the English reader to Chambers's " History of 
the Rebellion of 1745 ;" a work which proves how thin is the partition 
in human life which divides romance from reality. 


the intercession of the reigning family in Mexico, 
which was allied to him, to retire to that capital, and 
subsequently to his own, where he found a shelter in 
his ancestral palace. Here he remained unmolested 
for eight years, pursuing his studies under an old pre- 
ceptor, who had had the care of his early youth, and 
who instructed him in the various duties befitting his 
princely station. 5 

At the end of this period the Tepanec usurper died, 
bequeathing his empire to his son, Maxtla, a man of 
fierce and suspicious temper. Nezahualcoyotl has- 
tened to pay his obeisance to him, on his accession. 
But the tyrant refused to receive the little present of 
flowers which he laid at his feet, and turned his back 
on him in presence of his chieftains. One of his at- 
tendants, friendly to the young prince, admonished him 
to provide for his own safety, by withdrawing, as 
speedily as possible, from the palace, where his life 
was in danger. He lost no time, consequently, in 
retreating from the inhospitable court, and returned to 
Tezcuco. Maxtla, however, was bent on his destruc- 
tion. He saw with jealous eye the opening talents and 
popular manners of his rival, and the favor he was 
daily winning from his ancient subjects. 6 

He accordingly laid a plan for making away with him 
at an evening entertainment. It was defeated by the 
vigilance of the prince's tutor, who contrived to mis- 
lead the assassins and to substitute another victim in 
the place, of his pupil. 7 The baffled tyrant now threw 

5 Ixtlilxochitl, Relaciones, MS., No. 10. 

6 Idem, Relaciones, MS., No. 10. — Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 20-24. 

7 Idem, Hist. Chich.- MS., cap. 25. The contrivance was effected 


off all disguise, and sent a strong party of soldiers to 
Tezcuco, with orders to enter the palace, seize the 
person of Nezahualcoyotl, and slay him on the spot. 
The prince, who became acquainted with the plot 
through the watchfulness of his preceptor, instead of 
flying, as he was counselled, resolved to await his 
enemies. They found him playing at ball, when they 
arrived, in the court of his palace. He received them 
courteously, and invited them in, to take some refresh- 
ments after their journey. While they were occupied 
in this way, he passed into an adjoining saloon, which 
excited no suspicion, as he was still visible through the 
open doors by which the apartments communicated 
with each other. A burning censer stood in the pas- 
sage, and, as it was fed by the attendants, threw up 
such clouds of incense as obscured his movements from 
the soldiers. Under this friendly veil he succeeded in 
making his escape by a secret passage, which com- 
municated with a large earthen pipe formerly used to 
bring water to the palace. 8 Here he remained till 
nightfall, when, taking advantage of the obscurity, he 
found his way into the suburbs, and sought a shelter in 
the cottage of one of his father's vassals. 

The Tepanec monarch, enraged at this repeated dis- 

by means of an extraordinary personal resemblance of the parties ; a 
fruitful source of comic — as every reader of the drama knows — though 
rarely of tragic interest. 

8 It was customary, on entering the presence of a great lord, to 
throw aromatics into the censer. " Hecho en el brasero incienso y 
copal, que era uso y costumbre donde estaban los Reyes y Sefiores, 
cada vez que los criados entraban con mucha reverencia y acatamiento 
echaban sahumerio en el brasero ; y asi con este perfume se obscure- 
cia algo la sala." Ixtlilxochitl, Relaciones, MS., No. II. 


appointment, ordered instant pursuit. A price was set 
on the head of the royal fugitive. Whoever should 
take him, dead or alive, was promised, however hum- 
ble his degree, the hand of a noble lady, and an ample 
domain along with it. Troops of armed men were 
ordered to scour the country in every direction. In 
the course of the search, the cottage in which the 
prince had taken refuge was entered. But he fortu- 
nately escaped detection by being hid under a heap of 
maguey fibres used for manufacturing cloth. As this 
was no longer a proper place of concealment, he sought 
a retreat in the mountainous and woody district lying 
between the borders of his own state and Tlascala. 9 

Here he led a wretched, wandering life, exposed to 
all the inclemencies of the weather, hiding himself in 
deep thickets and caverns, and stealing out, at night, 
to satisfy the cravings of appetite ; while he was kept 
in constant alarm by the activity of his pursuers, always 
hovering on his track. On one occasion he sought 
refuge from them among a small party of soldiers, who 
proved friendly to him and concealed him in a large 
drum around which they were dancing. At another 
time he was just able to turn the crest of a hill as his 
enemies were climbing it on the other side, when he 
fell in with a girl who was reaping chia, — a Mexican 
plant, the seed of which was much used in the drinks 
of the country. He persuaded her to cover him up 
with the stalks she had been cutting. When his pur- 
suers came up, and inquired if she had seen the fugi- 
tive, the girl coolly answered that she had, and pointed 

9 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 26.— Relaciones, MS., No. 
11. — Veytia, Hist, antig., lib. 2, cap. 47. 


out a path as the one he had taken Notwithstand- 
ing the high rewards offered, Nezahualcoyotl seems to 
have incurred no danger from treachery, such was 
the general attachment felt to himself and his house. 
" Would you not deliver up the prince, if he came in 
your way?" he inquired of a young peasant who was 
unacquainted with his person. "Not I," replied the 
other. "What, not for a fair lady's hand, and a rich 
dowry beside?" rejoined the prince. At which the 
other only shook his head and laughed. 10 On more 
than one occasion his faithful people submitted to 
torture, and even to lose their lives, rather than dis- 
close the place of his retreat." 

However gratifying such proofs of loyalty might be 
to his feelings, the situation of the prince in these 
mountain solitudes became every day more distressing. 
It gave a still keener edge to his own sufferings to 
witness those of the faithful followers who chose to 
accompany him in his wanderings. "Leave me," he 
would say to them, " to my fate ! Why should you 
throw away your own lives for one whom fortune is 
never weary of persecuting ?" Most of the great Tez- 
cucan chiefs had consulted their interests by a timely 
adhesion to the usurper. But some still clung to their 
prince, preferring proscription, and death itself, rather 
than desert him in his extremity. 12 

10 " Nezahualcoiotzin le dixo, que si viese d. quien buscaban, si lo 
irfa & denunciar? respondi6, que no; tornan doled, replicar diciendole, 
que haria mui mal en perder una muger hermosa y lo demas que el 
rey Maxtla prometia, el mancebo se rid de todo, no haciendo caso ni 
de lo uno ni de lo otro." Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 27. 

11 Ibid., MS., cap. 26, 27. — Relaciones, MS., No. 11. — Veytia, Hist, 
antig., lib. 2, cap. 47, 48. 

12 Ixtlilxochitl, MSS., ubi supra. — Veytia, ubi supra. 


In the mean time, his friends at a distance were 
active in measures for his relief. The oppressions of 
Maxtla, and his growing empire, had caused general 
alarm in the surrounding states, who recalled the mild 
rule of the Tezcucan princes. A coalition was formed, 
a plan of operations concerted, and, on the day ap- 
pointed for a general rising, Nezahualcoyotl found him- 
self at the head of a force sufficiently strong to face 
his Tepanec adversaries. An engagement came on, 
in which the latter were totally discomfited ; and the 
victorious prince, receiving everywhere on his route 
the homage of his joyful subjects, entered his capital, 
not like a proscribed outcast, but as the rightful heir, 
and saw himself once more enthroned in the halls of 
his fathers. 

Soon after, he united his forces with the Mexicans, 
long disgusted with the arbitrary conduct of Maxtla. 
The allied powers, after a series of bloody engagements 
with the usurper, routed him under the walls of his 
own capital. He fled to the baths, whence he was 
dragged out, and sacrificed with the usual cruel cere- 
monies of the Aztecs ; the royal city of Azcapozalco 
was razed to the ground, and the wasted territory was 
henceforth reserved as the great slave-market for the 
nations of Anahuac. 13 

These events were succeeded by the remarkable 
league among the three powers of Tezcuco, Mexico, 
and Tlacopan, of which some account has been given 
in a previous chapter. 14 Historians are not agreed as 

J 3 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 28-31. — Relacioncs, MS., 
No. 11. — Veytia, Hist, antig., lib. 2, cap. 51-54. 
** See page 21 of this volume. 

Vol. I. — h 15 



to the precise terms of it ; the writers of the two 
former nations each insisting on the paramount author- 
ity of his own in the coalition. All agree in the sub- 
ordinate position of Tlacopan, a state, like the others, 
bordering on the lake. It is certain that in their sub- 
sequent operations, whether of peace or war, the three 
states shared in each other's councils, embarked in 
each other's enterprises, and moved in perfect concert 
together, till just before the coming of the Spaniards. 

The first measure of Nezahualcoyotl, on returning 
to his dominions, was a general amnesty. It was his 
maxim " that a monarch might punish, but revenge 
was unworthy of him." ,s In the present instance he 
was averse even to punish, and not only freely pardoned 
his rebel nobles, but conferred on some, who had most 
deeply offended, posts of honor and confidence. Such 
conduct was doubtless politic, especially as their alien- 
ation was owing, probably, much more to fear of the 
usurper than to any disaffection towards himself. But 
there are some acts of policy which a magnanimous 
spirit only can execute. 

The restored monarch next set about repairing the 
damages sustained under the late misrule, and reviving, 
or rather remodelling, the various departments of gov- 
ernment. He framed a concise, but comprehensive, 
code of laws, so well suited, it was thought, to the 
exigencies of the times, that it was adopted as their 
own by the two other members of the triple alliance. 
It was written in blood, and entitled the author to be 
called the Draco rather than " the Solon of Anahuac," 

is " Que venganza no es justo la procuren los Reyes, sino castigar 
al que lo mereciere." MS. de Ixtlilxochitl. 



as he is fondly styled by his admirers. 16 Humanity is 
one of the best fruits of refinement. It is only with 
increasing civilization that the legislator studies to 
economize human suffering, even for the guilty ; to 
devise penalties not so much by way of punishment 
for the past as of reformation for the future. 17 

He divided the burden of government among a 
number of departments, as the council of war, the 
council of finance, the council of justice. This last 
was a court of supreme authority, both in civil and 
criminal matters, receiving appeals from the lower tri- 
bunals of the provinces, which were obliged to make a 
full report, every four months, or eighty days, of their 
own proceedings to this higher judicature. In all 
these bodies, a certain number of citizens were allowed 
to have seats with the nobles and professional digni- 
taries. There was, however, another body, a council 
of state, for aiding the king in the despatch of business, 
and advising him in matters of importance, which was 
drawn altogether from the highest order of chiefs. It 
consisted of fourteen members; and they had seats 
provided for them at the royal table. 13 

16 See Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, torn. i. p. 247. — Nezahualcoyotl's 
code consisted of eighty laws, of which thirty-four only have come 
down to us, according to Veytia. (Hist, antig., torn. iii. p. 224, nota.) 
Ixtlilxochitl enumerates several of them. Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 38, 
and Relaciones, MS., Ordenanzas. 

»7 Nowhere are these principles kept more steadily in view than in 
the various writings of our adopted countryman Dr. Lieber, having 
more or less to do with the theory of legislation. Such works could 
not have been produced before the nineteenth century. 

*8 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 36. — Veytia, Hist, antig., lib. 
3, cap. 7. — According to Zurita, the principal judges, at their general 
meetings every four months, constituted also a sort of parliament or 


Lastly, there was an extraordinary tribunal, called 
the council of music, but which, differing from the 
import of its name, was devoted to the encouragement 
of science and art. Works on astronomy, chronology, 
history, or any other science, were required to be sub- 
mitted to its judgment, before they could be made 
public. This censorial power was of some moment, 
at least with regard to the historical department, where 
the wilful perversion of truth was made a capital offence 
by the bloody code of Nezahualcoyotl. Yet a Tez- 
cucan author must have been a bungler, who could not 
elude a conviction under the cloudy veil of hiero- 
glyphics. This body, which was drawn from the best- 
instructed persons in the kingdom, with little regard 
to rank, had supervision of all the productions of art, 
and of the nicer fabrics. It decided on the qualifi- 
cations of the professors in the various branches of 
science, on the fidelity of their instructions to their 
pupils, the deficiency of which was severely punished, 
and it instituted examinations of these latter. In short, 
it was a general board of education for the country. 
On stated days, historical compositions, and poems 
treating of moral or traditional topics, were recited 
before it by their authors. Seats were provided for the 
three crowned heads of the empire, who deliberated 
with the other members on the respective merits of the 
pieces, and distributed prizes of value to the successful 
competitors.* 9 

c6rtes, for advising the king on matters of state. See his Rapport, 
p. 106; also ante, p. 33. 

»9 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 36. — Clavigero, Stor. del 
Messico, torn. ii. p. 137. — Veytia, Hist, antig., lib. 3, cap. 7. — " Con- 
currian a este consejo las tres cabezas del imperio, en ciertos dias, &. 



Such are the marvellous accounts transmitted to us 
of this institution ; an institution certainly not to have 
been expected among the aborigines of America. It 
is calculated to give us a higher idea of the refinement 
of the people than even the noble architectural remains 
which still cover some parts of the continent. Archi- 
tecture is, to a certain extent, a sensual gratification. 
It addresses itself to the eye, and affords the best scope 
for the parade of barbaric pomp and splendor. It is 
the form in which the revenues of a semi-civilized 
people are most likely to be lavished. The most gaudy 
and ostentatious specimens of it, and sometimes the 
most stupendous, have been reared by such hands. It 
is one of the first steps in the great march of civiliza- 
tion. But the institution in question was evidence of 
still higher refinement. It was a literary luxury, and 
argued the existence of a taste in the nation which 
relied for its gratification on pleasures of a purely 
intellectual character. 

The influence of this academy must have been most 
propitious to the capital, which became the nursery 
not only of such sciences as could be compassed by 
the scholarship of the period, but of various useful 
and ornamental arts. Its historians, orators, and poets 

oir cantar las poesias historicas antiguas y modernas, para instruirse 
de toda su historia, y tambien cuando habia algun nuevo invento en 
cualquiera facultad, para examinarlo, aprobarlo, 6 reprobarlo. Delante 
de las sillas de los reyes habia una gran mesa cargada de joyas de oro 
y plata, pedrerfa, plumas, y otras cosas estimables, y en los rincones 
de la sala muchas de mantas de todas calidades, para premios de las 
habilidades y esti'mulo de los profesores, las cuales alhajas repartian 
los reyes, en los dias que concurrian, & los que se aventajaban en el 
ejercicio de sus facultades." Ibid. 



were celebrated throughout the country. 20 Its archives, 
for which accommodations were provided in the royal 
palace, were stored with the records of primitive ages. 21 
Its idiom, more polished than the Mexican, was, in- 
deed, the purest of all the Nahuatlac dialects, and con- 
tinued, long after the Conquest, to be that in which 
the best productions of the native races were composed. 
Tezcuco claimed the glory of being the Athens of the 
Western world. 22 

Among the most illustrious of her bards was the 
emperor himself, — for the Tezcucan writers claim this 
title for their chief, as head of the imperial alliance. 
He doubtless appeared as a competitor before that very 
academy where he so often sat as a critic. Many of 
his odes descended to a late generation, and are still 
preserved, perhaps, in some of the dusty repositories 
of Mexico or Spain. 23 The historian Ixtlilxochitl has 

20 Veytia, Hist, antig., lib. 3, cap. 7. — Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, 
torn. i. p. 247. — The latter author enumerates four historians, some of 
much repute, of the royal house of Tezcuco, descendants of the great 
Nezahualcoyotl. See his Account of Writers, torn. i. pp. 6-21. 

81 " En la ciudad de Tezcuco estaban los Archivos Reales de todas 
las cosas referidas, por haver sido la Metropoli de todas las ciencias, 
usos, y buenas costumbres, porque los Reyes que fueron de ella se 
preciaron de esto." (Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., Prologo.) It 
was from the poor wreck of these documents, once so carefully pre- 
served by his ancestors, that the historian gleaned the materials, as he 
informs us, for his own works. 

22 " Aunque es tenida la lengua Mejicana por materna, y la Tezcu- 
cana por mas cortesana y pulida." (Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, 
MS.) "Tezcuco," says Boturini, "where the noblemen sent their 
sons to acquire the most polished dialect of the Nahuatlac language, 
and to study poetry moral philosophy, the heathen theology, astron- 
omy, medicine, and history." Idea, p. ,142. 

2 3 " He composed sixty songs," says the author last quoted, "which 


1 75 

left a translation, in Castilian, of one of the poems of 
his royal ancestor. It is not easy to render his version 
into corresponding English rhyme, without the per- 
fume of the original escaping in this double filtration. 24 
They remind one of the rich breathings of Spanish- 
Arab poetry, in which an ardent imagination is tem- 
pered by a not unpleasing and moral melancholy. 25 
But, though sufficiently florid in diction, they are 
generally free from the meretricious ornaments and 
hyperbole with which the minstrelsy of the East is 
usually tainted. They turn on the vanities and mu- 
tability of human life, — a topic very natural for a 
monarch who had himself experienced the strangest 
mutations of fortune. There is mingled in the lament 
of the Tezcucan bard, however, an Epicurean philos- 
ophy, which seeks relief from the fears of the future 
in the joys of the present. "Banish care," he says: 
" if there are bounds to pleasure, the saddest life must 
also have an end. Then weave the chaplet of flowers, 
and sing thy songs in praise of the all-powerful God ; 
for the glory of this world soon fadeth away. Rejoice 
in the green freshness of thy spring ; for the day will 

have probably perished by the incendiary hands of the ignorant." 
(Idea, p. 79.) Boturini had translations of two of these in his museum 
(Cat&logo, p. 8), and another has since come to light. 

«4 Difficult as the task may be, it has been executed by the hand of 
a fair friend, who, while she has adhered to the Castilian with singular 
fidelity, has shown a grace and flexibility in her poetical movements 
which the Castilian version, and probably the Mexican original, cannot 
boast. See both translations in Appendix, Part 2, No. 2. 

B S Numerous specimens of this may be found in Conde's " Domi- 
nacion de los Arabes en Espana." None of them are superior to the 
plaintive strains of the royal Abderahman on the solitary palm-tree 
which reminded him of the pleasant land of his birth. See Parte 2, 
cap. 9. 


come when thou shalt sigh for these joys in vain ; 
when the sceptre shall pass from thy hands, thy ser- 
vants shall wander desolate in thy courts, thy sons, 
and the sons of thy nobles, shall drink the dregs of 
distress, and all the pomp of thy victories and triumphs 
shall live only in their recollection. Yet the remem- 
brance of the just shall not pass away from the nations, 
and the good thou hast done shall ever be held in 
honor. The goods of this life, its glories and its 
riches, are but lent to us, its substance is but an illu- 
sory shadow, and the things of to-day shall change on 
the coming of the morrow. Then gather the fairest 
flowers from thy gardens, to bind round thy brow, and 
seize the joys of the present ere they perish. ' ' " 6 

" Io tocare cantando 
El musico instrumento sonoroso, 
Tu de flores gozando 
Danza, y festeja a Dios que es poderoso ; 
O gozemos de esta gloria, 
Porque la humana vida es transitoria." 


The sentiment, which is common enough, is expressed with un- 
common beauty by the English poet Herrick : 

" Gather the rosebuds while you may ; 
Old Time is still a flying ; 
The fairest flower that blooms to-day 
To-morrow may be dying." 

And with still greater beauty, perhaps, by Racine : 
" Rions, chantons, dit cette troupe impie, 
De fleurs en fleurs, de plaisirs en plaisirs, 

Promenons nos desirs. 
Sur l'avenir insense qui se fie. 
De nos ans passagers le nombre est incertain. 
Hatons-nous aujourd'hui de jouir de la vie ; 
Qui sait si nous serons demain?" 

Athalie, Acte 2. 

It is interesting to see under what different forms the same senti- 



But the hours of the Tezcucan monarch were not all 
passed in idle dalliance with the Muse, nor in the sober 
contemplations of philosophy, as at a later period. In 
the freshness of youth and early manhood he led the 
allied armies in their annual expeditions, which were 
certain to result in a wider extent of territory to the 
empire. 27 In the intervals of peace he fostered those 
productive arts which are the surest sources of public 
prosperity. He encouraged agriculture above all ; and 
there was scarcely a spot so rude, or a steep so in- 
accessible, as not to confess the power of cultivation. 
The land was covered with a busy population, and 
towns and cities sprang up in places since deserted or 
dwindled into miserable villages. 28 

From resources thus enlarged by conquest and do- 

ment is developed by different races and in different languages. It is 
an Epicurean sentiment, indeed, but its universality proves its truth 
to nature. 

=7 Some of the provinces and places thus conquered were held by 
the allied powers in common ; Tlacopan, however, only receiving 
one-fifth of the tribute. It was more usual to annex the vanquished 
territory to that one of the two great states to which it lay nearest. 
See Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 38. — Zurita, Rapport, p. 11. 

38 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 41. The same writer, in 
another work, calls the population of Tezcuco, at this period, double 
of what it was at the Conquest ; founding his estimate on the royal 
registers, and on the numerous remains of edifices still visible in his 
day, in places now depopulated. " Parece en las historias que en 
este tiempo, antes que se destruyesen, havia doblado mas gente de la 
que hallo al tiempo que vino Cortes, y los demas Espanoles : porque 
yo hallo en los padrones reales, que el menor pueblo tenia 1100 veci- 
nos, y de alii para arriba, y ahora no tienen 200 vecinos, y aun en 
algunas partes de todo punto se han acabado. . . . Como se hecha 
de ver en las ruinas, hasta los mas altos montes y sierras tenian sus 
sementeras, y casas principales para vivir y morar." Relaciones, 
MS., No. 9. 


mestic industry, the monarch drew the means for the 
large consumption of his own numerous household, 29 
and for the costly works which he executed for the 
convenience and embellishment of the capital. He 
filled it with stately edifices for his nobles, whose con- 
stant attendance he was anxious to secure at his court. 30 
He erected a magnificent pile of buildings which might 
serve both for a royal residence and for the public 
offices. It extended, from east to west, twelve hun- 
dred and thirty-four yards, and from north to south, 
nine hundred and seventy-eight. It was encompassed 
by a wall of unburnt bricks and cement, six feet wide 
and nine high for one half of the circumference, and 
fifteen feet high for the other half. Within this en- 
closure were two courts. The outer one was used as 
the great market-place of the city, and continued to 
be so until long after the Conquest, — if, indeed, it is 
not now. The interior court was surrounded by the 
council-chambers and halls of justice. There were also 
accommodations there for the foreign ambassadors; 
and a spacious saloon, with apartments opening into 

29 Torquemada has extracted the particulars of the yearly expendi- 
ture of the palace from the royal account-book, which came into the 
historian's possession. The following are some of the items, namely : 
4,900,300 fanegas of maize (the fanega is equal to about one hundred 
pounds) ; 2,744,000 fanegas of cacao ; 8000 turkeys ; 1300 baskets of 
salt ; besides an incredible quantity of game of every kind, vegetables, 
condiments, etc. (Monarch. Ind., lib. 2, cap. 53.) See, also, Ixtlilxo- 
chitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 35. 

3° There were more than four hundred of these lordly residences. 
" Asi mismo hizo edificar muchas casas y palacios para los senores 
y cavalleros, que asistian en su corte, cada uno conforme d. la calidad 
y meritos de su persona, las quales llegaron a ser mas de quatrocientas 
casas de senores y cavalleros de solar conocido." Ibid., cap. 38. 



it, for men of science and poets, who pursued their 
studies in this retreat or met together to hold converse 
under its marble porticoes. In this quarter, also, were 
kept the public archives, which fared better under 
the Indian dynasty than they have since under their 
European successors. 31 

Adjoining this court were the apartments of the 
king, including those for the royal harem, as liberally 
supplied with beauties as that of an Eastern sultan. 
Their walls were incrusted with alabasters and richly- 
tinted stucco, or hung with gorgeous tapestries of varie- 
gated feather-work. They led through long arcades, 
and through intricate labyrinths of shrubbery, into 
gardens where baths and sparkling fountains were over- 
shadowed by tall groves of cedar and cypress. The 
basins of water were well stocked with fish of various 
kinds, and the aviaries with birds glowing in all the 
gaudy plumage of the tropics. Many birds and ani- 
mals which could not be obtained alive were repre- 
sented in gold and silver so skilfully as to have fur- 
nished the great naturalist Hernandez with models for 
his work. 32 

31 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 36. " Esta plaza cercada de 
portales, y tenia asi mismo por la parte del poniente otra sala grande, 
y muchos quartos a la redonda, que era la universidad, en donde 
asistian todos los poetas, historicos.y philosophos del reyno, divididos 
en sus claves, y academias, conforme era la facultad de cada uno, y 
asi mismo estaban aqui los archivos reales." 

3 s This celebrated naturalist was sent by Philip II. to New Spain, 
and he employed several years in compiling a voluminous work 
on its various natural productions, with drawings illustrating them. 
Although the government is said to have expended sixty thousand 
ducats in effecting this great object, the volumes were not published 
till long after the author's death. In 1651 a mutilated edition of the 


Accommodations on a princely scale were provided 
for the sovereigns of Mexico and Tlacopan when they 
visited the court. The whole of this lordly pile con- 
tained three hundred apartments, some of them fifty 
yards square. 33 The height of the building is not 
mentioned. It was probably not great, but supplied 
the requisite room by the immense extent of ground 
which it covered. The interior was doubtless con- 
structed of light materials, especially of the rich woods 
which, in that country, are remarkable, when polished, 
for the brilliancy and variety of their colors. That 
the more solid materials of stone and stucco were also 
liberally employed is proved by the remains at the 
present day; remains which have furnished an inex- 
haustible quarry for the churches and other edifices 
since erected by the Spaniards on the site of the an- 
cient city. 34 

part of the work relating to medical botany appeared at Rome. — The 
original MSS. were supposed to have been destroyed by the great fire 
in the Escorial, not many years after. Fortunately, another copy, in 
the author's own hand, was detected by the indefatigable Munoz, in 
the library of the Jesuits' College at Madrid, in the latter part of the 
last century; and a beautiful edition, from the famous press of Ibarra, 
was published in that capital, under the patronage of government, in 
1790. (Hist. Plantarum, Praefatio. — Nic. Antonio, Bibliotheca His- 
pana Nova (Matriti, 1790), torn. ii. p. 432.) The work of Hernandez 
is a monument of industry and erudition, the more remarkable as 
being the first on this difficult subject. And, after all the additional light 
from the labors of later naturalists, it still holds its place as a book of 
the highest authority, for the perspicuity, fidelity, and thoroughness 
with which the multifarious topics in it are discussed. 

33 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 36. 

34 " Some of the terraces on which it stood," says Mr. Bullock, 
speaking of this palace, " are still entire, and covered with cement, 
very hard, and equal in beauty to that found in ancient Roman build- 


We are not informed of the time occupied in build- 
ing this palace. But two hundred thousand workmen, 
it is said, were employed on it. 33 However this may 
be, it is certain that the Tezcucan monarchs, like those 
of Asia and ancient Egypt, had the control of im- 
mense masses of men, and would sometimes turn the 
whole population of a conquered city, including the 
women, into the public works. 36 The most gigantic 
monuments of architecture which the world has wit- 
nessed would never have been reared by the hands of 

Adjoining the palace were buildings for the king's 
children, who, by his various wives, amounted to no less 
than sixty sons and fifty daughters. 37 Here they were 
instructed in all the exercises and accomplishments 
suited to their station ; comprehending, what would 
scarcely find a place in a royal education on the other 

ings. . . . The great church, which stands close by, is almost entirely 
built of the materials taken from the palace, many of the sculptured 
stones from which may be seen in the walls, though most of the orna- 
ments are turned inwards. Indeed, our guide informed us that who- 
ever built a house at Tezcuco made the ruins of the palace serve as 
his quarry." (Six Months in Mexico, chap. 26.) Torquemada no- 
tices the appropriation of the materials to the same purpose. Monarch. 
Ind., lib. 2, cap. 45. 

35 Ixtlilxochitl, MS., ubi supra. 

3 6 Thus, to punish the Chalcas for their rebellion, the whole popu- 
lation were compelled, women as well as men, says the chronicler so 
often quoted, to labor on the royal edifices for four years together ; 
and large granaries were provided with stores for their maintenance 
in the mean time. Idem, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 46. 

37 If the people in general were not much addicted to polygamy, the 
sovereign, it must be confessed, — and it was the same, we shall see, in 
Mexico, — made ample amends foi any self-denial on the part of his 

Vol. I. 16 


side of the Atlantic, the arts of working in metals, jew- 
elry, and feather-mosaic. Once in every four months, 
the whole household, not excepting the youngest, and 
including all the officers and attendants on the king's 
person, assembled in a grand saloon of the palace, to 
listen to a discourse from an orator, probably one of 
the priesthood. The princes, on this occasion, were 
all dressed in nequen, the coarsest manufacture of the 
country. The preacher began by enlarging on the 
obligations of morality and of respect for the gods, 
especially important in persons whose rank gave such 
additional weight to example. He occasionally sea- 
soned his homily with a pertinent application to his 
audience, if any member of it had been guilty of a no- 
torious delinquency. From this wholesome admonition 
the monarch himself was not exempted, and the orator 
boldly reminded him of his paramount duty to show 
respect for his own laws. The king, so far from taking 
umbrage, received the lesson with humility; and the 
audience, we are assured, were often melted into tears 
by the eloquence of the preacher. 38 This curious scene 
may remind one of similar usages in the Asiatic and 
Egyptian despotisms, where the sovereign occasionally 
condescended to stoop from his pride of place and 
allow his memory to be refreshed with the conviction 
of his own mortality. 39 It soothed the feelings of the 

38 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 37. 

39 The Egyptian priests managed the affair in a more courtly style, 
and, while they prayed that all sorts of kingly virtues might descend 
on the prince, they threw the blame of actual delinquencies on his 
ministers; thus, "not by the bitterness of reproof," says Diodorus, 
" but by the allurements of praise, enticing him to an honest way of 
life." Lib. 1, cap. 70. 


subject to find himself thus placed, though but for a 
moment, on a level with his king ; while it cost little 
to the latter, who was removed too far from his people 
to suffer anything by this short-lived familiarity. It is 
probable that such an act of public humiliation would 
have found less favor with a prince less absolute. 

Nezahualcoyotl's fondness for magnificence was shown 
in his numerous villas, which were embellished with all 
that could make a rural retreat delightful. His favorite 
residence was at Tezcotzinco, a conical hill about two 
leagues from the capital. 40 It was laid out in terraces, 
or hanging gardens, having a flight of steps five hundred 
and twenty in number, many of them hewn in the 
natural porphyry. 41 In the garden on the summit was 
a reservoir of water, fed by an aqueduct that was carried 
over hill and valley, for several miles, on huge but- 
tresses of masonry. A large rock stood in the midst 
of this basin, sculptured with the hieroglyphics repre- 
senting the years of Nezahualcoyotl's reign and his 
principal achievements in each. 42 On a lower level 

40 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 42. — See Appendix, Part 2, 
No. 3, for the original description of this royal residence. 

41 " Quinientos y veynte escalones." Davilla Padilla, Historia de la 
Provincia de Santiago (Madrid, 1596), lib. 2, cap. 81. — This writer, 
who lived in the sixteenth century, counted the steps himself. Those 
which were not cut in the rock were crumbling into ruins, as, indeed, 
every part of the establishment was even then far gone to decay. 

43 On the summit of the mount, according to Padilla, stood an 
image of a coyotl, — an animal resembling a fox, — which, according to 
tradition, represented an Indian famous for his fasts. It was de- 
stroyed by that stanch iconoclast, Bishop Zumarraga, as a relic of 
idolatry. (Hist, de Santiago, lib. 2, cap. 81.) This figure was, no 
doubt, the emblem of Nezahualcoyotl himself, whose name, as else- 
where noticed, signified " hungry fox." 


were three other reservoirs, in each of which stood a 
marble statue of a woman, emblematic of the three 
states of the empire. Another tank contained a winged 
lion, (?) cut out of the solid rock, bearing in its mouth 
the portrait of the emperor. 43 His likeness had been 
executed in gold, wood, feather-work, and stone ; but 
this was the only one which pleased him. 

From these copious basins the water was distributed 
in numerous channels through the gardens, or was 
made to tumble over the rocks in cascades, shedding 
refreshing dews on the flowers and odoriferous shrubs 
below. In the depths of this fragrant wilderness, 
marble porticoes and pavilions were erected, and baths 
excavated in the solid porphyry, which are still shown 
by the ignorant natives as the "Baths of Monte- 
zuma" I 44 The visitor descended by steps cut in the 
living stone and polished so bright as to reflect like 
mirrors. 45 Towards the base of the hill, in the midst 
of cedar groves, whose gigantic branches threw a 

43 " Hecho de una pefia un leon de mas de dos brazas de largo con 
sus alas y plumas : estaba hechado y mirando a la parte del oriente, en 
cuia boca asomaba un rostro, que era el mismo retrato del Rey." 
Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 42. 

44 Bullock speaks of a "beautiful basin, twelve feet long by eight 
wide, having a well five feet by four, deep in the centre," etc. etc. 
Whether truth lies in the bottom of this well is not so clear. Latrobe 
describes the baths as " two singular basins, perhaps two feet and a 
half in diameter, not large enough for any monarch bigger than 
Oberon to take a duck in." (Comp. Six Months in Mexico, chap. 
26 ; and Rambler in Mexico, Let. 7.) Ward speaks much to the same 
purpose (Mexico in 1827 (London, 1828), vol. ii. p. 296), which 
agrees with verbal accounts I have received of the same spot. 

45 " Gradas hechas de la misma pefia tan bien gravadas y lizas que 
parecian espejos." (Ixtlilxochitl, MS., ubi supra.) The travellers 
just cited notice the beautiful polish still visible in the porphyry. 


refreshing coolness over the verdure in the sultriest 
seasons of the year/ 6 rose the royal villa, with its light 
arcades and airy halls, drinking in the sweet perfumes 
of the gardens. Here the monarch often retired, to 
throw off the burden of state and refresh his wearied 
spirits in the society of his favorite wives, reposing 
during the noontide heats in the embowering shades 
of his paradise, or mingling, in the cool of the even- 
ing, in their festive sports and dances. Here he enter- 
tained his imperial brothers of Mexico and Tlacopan, 
and followed the hardier pleasures of the chase in the 
noble woods that stretched for miles around his villa, 
flourishing in all their primeval majesty. Here, too, 
he often repaired in the latter days of his life, when 
age had tempered ambition and cooled the ardor of his 
blood, to pursue in solitude the studies of philosophy 
and gather wisdom from meditation. 

The extraordinary accounts of the Tezcucan archi- 
tecture are confirmed, in the main, by the relics which 
still cover the hill of Tezcotzinco or are half buried 
beneath its surface. They attract little attention, in- 
deed, in the country, where their true history has long 
since passed into oblivion ; 47 while the traveller whose 

* 6 Padilla saw entire pieces of cedar among the ruins, ninety feet 
long and four in diameter. Some of the massive portals, he observed, 
were made of a single stone. (Hist, de Santiago, lib. u, cap. 81.) 
Peter Martyr notices an enormous wooden beam, used in the con- 
struction of the palaces of Tezcuco, which was one hundred and 
twenty feet long by eight feet in diameter ! The accounts of this and 
similar huge pieces of timber were so astonishing, he adds, that he 
could not have received them except on the most unexceptionable 
testimony. De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 10. 

47 It is much to be regretted that the Mexican government should 
not take a deeper interest in the Indian antiquities. What might not 


curiosity leads him to the spot speculates on their 
probable origin, and, as he stumbles over the huge 
fragments of sculptured porphyry and granite, refers 
them to the primitive races who spread their colossal 
architecture over the country long before the coming 
of the Acolhuans and the Aztecs. 48 

The Tezcucan princes were used to entertain a great 
number of concubines. They had but one lawful wife, 
to whose issue the crown descended. 49 Nezahualcoyotl 
remained unmarried to a late period. He was disap- 
pointed in an early attachment, as the princess who 
had been educated in privacy to be the partner of 
his throne gave her hand to another. The injured 
monarch submitted the affair to the proper tribunal. 
The parties, however, were proved to have been igno- 
rant of the destination of the lady, and the court, with 
an independence which reflects equal honor on the 
judges who could give and the monarch who could 

be effected by a few hands drawn from the idle garrisons of some of 
the neighboring towns and employed in excavating this ground, " the 
Mount Palatine" of Mexico! But, unhappily, the age of violence has 
been succeeded by one of apathy. 

4 s " They are doubtless," says Mr. Latrobe, speaking of what he 
calls " these inexplicable ruins," " rather of Toltec than Aztec origin, 
and, perhaps, with still more probability, attributable to a people of 
an age yet more remote." (Rambler in Mexico, Let. 7.) " I am of 
opinion," says Mr. Bullock, " that these were antiquities prior to the 
discovery of America, and erected by a people whose history was lost 
even before the building of the city of Mexico. — Who can solve this 
difficulty?" (Six Months in Mexico, ubi supra.) The reader who 
takes Ixtlilxochitl for his guide will have no great trouble in solving it. 
He will find here, as he might, probably, in some other instances, that 
one need go little higher than the Conquest for the origin of antiqui- 
ties which claim to be coeval with Phoenicia and ancient Egypt. 

« Zurita, Rapport, p. 12. 


receive the sentence, acquitted the young couple. This 
story is sadly contrasted by the following. 30 

The king devoured his chagrin in the solitude of his 
beautiful villa of Tezcotzinco, or sought to divert it by 
travelling. On one of his journeys he was hospitably 
entertained by a potent vassal, the old lord of Tepech- 
pan, who, to do his sovereign more honor, caused him 
to be attended at the banquet by a noble maiden, be- 
trothed to himself, and who, after the fashion of the 
country, had been educated under his own roof. She 
was of the blood royal of Mexico, and nearly related, 
moreover, to the Tezcucan monarch. The latter, who 
had all the amorous temperament of the South, was 
captivated by the grace and personal charms of the 
youthful Hebe, and conceived a violent passion for 
her. He did not disclose it to any one, however, but, 
on his return home, resolved to gratify it, though at 
the expense of his own honor, by sweeping away the 
only obstacle which stood in his path. 

He accordingly sent an order to the chief of Te- 
pechpan to take command of an expedition set on foot 
against the Tlascalans. At the same time he instructed 
two Tezcucan chiefs to keep near the person of the old 
lord, and bring him into the thickest of the fight, 
where he might lose his life. He assured them this 
had been forfeited by a great crime, but that, from 
regard for his vassal's past services, he was willing to 
cover up his disgrace by an honorable death. 

The veteran, who had long lived in retirement on 
his estates, saw himself with astonishment called so 
suddenly and needlessly into action, for which so 

50 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 43. 


many younger men were better fitted. He suspected 
the cause, and, in the, farewell entertainment to his 
friends, uttered a presentiment of his sad destiny. His 
predictions were too soon verified ; and a few weeks 
placed the hand of his virgin bride at her own dis- 

Nezahualcoyotl did not think it prudent to break his 
passion publicly to the princess so soon after the death 
of his victim. He opened a correspondence with her 
through a female relative, and expressed his deep sym- 
pathy for her loss. At the same time, he tendered the 
best consolation in his power, by an offer of his heart 
and hand. Her former lover had been too well stricken 
in years for the maiden to remain long inconsolable. 
She was not aware of the perfidious plot against his 
life ; and, after a decent time, she was ready to comply 
with her duty, by placing herself at the disposal of her 
royal kinsman. 

It was arranged by the king, in order to give a more 
natural aspect to the affair and prevent all suspicion 
of the unworthy part he had acted, that the princess 
should present herself in his grounds at Tezcotzinco, 
to witness some public ceremony there. Nezahual- 
coyotl was standing in a balcony of the palace when 
she appeared, and inquired, as if struck with her beauty 
for the first time, "who the lovely young creature was, 
in his gardens." When his courtiers had acquainted 
him with her name and rank, he ordered her to be 
conducted to the palace, that she might receive the 
attentions due to her station. The interview was soon 
followed by a public declaration of his passion ; and 
the marriage was celebrated not long after, with great 


pomp, in the presence of his court, and of his brother 
monarchs of Mexico and Tlacopan. 51 

This story, which furnishes so obvious a counterpart 
to that of David and Uriah, is told with great circum- 
stantiality, both by the king's son and grandson, from 
whose narratives Ixtlilxochitl derived it. 52 They stig- 
matize the action as the basest in their great ancestor's 
life. It is indeed too base not to leave an indelible 
stain on any character, however pure in other respects, 
and exalted. 

The king was strict in the execution of his laws, 
though his natural disposition led him to temper justice 
with mercy. Many anecdotes are told of the benevo- 
lent interest he took in the concerns of his subjects, 
and of his anxiety to detect and reward merit, even in 
the most humble. It was common for him to ramble 
among them in disguise, like the celebrated caliph in 
the "Arabian Nights," mingling freely in conversation, 
and ascertaining their actual condition with his own 
eyes. 53 

On one such occasion, when attended only by a 
single lord, he met with a boy who was gathering sticks 
in a field for fuel. He inquired of him "why he did 
not go into the neighboring forest, where he would find 
a plenty of them." To which the lad answered, " It 
was the king's wood, and he would punish him with 
death if he trespassed there." The royal forests were 

51 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 43. 

3= Idem, ubi supra, 

53 " En traje de cazador (que lo acostumbraba & hacer muy de 
ordinario), saliendo d solas, y disfrazado para que no fuese conocido, 
& reconocer las faltas y necesidad que havia en la repiiblica para re- 
mediarlas." Idem, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 46. 



very extensive in Tezcuco, and were guarded by laws 
full as severe as those of the Norman tyrants in Eng- 
land. " What kind of man is your king?" asked the 
monarch, willing to learn the effect of these prohibi- 
tions on his own popularity. "A very hard man," 
answered the boy, "who denies his people what God 
has given them." 54 Nezahualcoyotl urged him not to 
mind such arbitrary laws, but to glean his sticks in the 
forest, as there was no one present who would betray 
him. But the boy sturdily refused, bluntly accusing 
the disguised king, at the same time, of being a traitor, 
and of wishing to bring him into trouble. 

Nezahualcoyotl, on returning to the palace, ordered 
the child and his parents to be summoned before him. 
They received the orders with astonishment, but, on 
entering the presence, the boy at once recognized the 
person with whom he had discoursed so unceremo- 
niously, and he was filled with consternation. The 
good-natured monarch, however, relieved his appre- 
hensions, by thanking him for the lesson he had given 
him, and, at the same time, commended his respect 
for the laws, and praised his parents for the manner in 
which they had trained their son. He then dismissed 
the parties with a liberal largess, and afterwards miti- 
gated the severity of the forest laws, so as to allow 
persons to gather any wood they might find on the 
ground, if they did not meddle with the standing 
timber. 55 

Another adventure is told of him, with a poor wood- 

54 " Un hombresillo miserable, pues quita a los hombres lo que Dios 
a manos llenas les da." Ixtlilxochitl, loc. cit. 

55 Ibid., cap. 46. 



man and his wife, who had brought their little load of 
billets for sale to the market-place of Tezcuco. The 
man was bitterly lamenting his hard lot, and the diffi- 
culty with which he earned a wretched subsistence, 
while the master of the palace before which they were 
standing lived an idle life, without toil, and with all 
the luxuries in the world at his command. 

He was going on in his complaints, when the good 
woman stopped him, by reminding him he might be 
overheard. He was so, by Nezahualcoyotl himself, 
who, standing screened from observation at a latticed 
window which overlooked the market, was amusing 
himself, as he was wont, with observing the common 
people chaffering in the square. He immediately 
ordered the querulous couple into his presence. They 
appeared trembling and conscience-struck before him. 
The king gravely inquired what they had said. As they 
answered him truly, he told them they should reflect 
that, if he had great treasures at his command, he had 
still greater calls for them ; that, far from leading an 
easy life, he was oppressed with the whole burden of 
government; and concluded by admonishing them 
"to be more cautious in future, as walls had ears." 56 
He then ordered his officers to bring a quantity of 
cloth and a generous supply of cacao (the coin of 
the country), and dismissed them. "Go," said he; 
"with the little you now have, you will be rich ; while, 
with all my riches, I shall still be poor. ' ' S7 

56 <• Porque las paredes oian." (Ixtlilxochitl, loc. cit.) A European 
proverb among the American aborigines looks too strange not to 
make one suspect the hand of the chronicler. 

57 " Le dijo, que con aquello poco le bastaba, y viviria bien aventu- 



It was not his passion to hoard. He dispensed his 
revenues munificently, seeking out poor but merito- 
rious objects on whom to bestow them. He was par- 
ticularly mindful of disabled soldiers, and those who 
had in any way sustained loss in the public service, 
and, in case of their death, extended assistance to their 
surviving families. Open mendicity was a thing he 
would never tolerate, but chastised it with exemplary 
rigor. 38 

It would be incredible that a man of the enlarged 
mind and endowments of Nezahualcoyotl should ac- 
quiesce in the sordid superstitions of his countrymen, 
and still more in the sanguinary rites borrowed by 
them from the Aztecs. In truth, his humane temper 
shrunk from these cruel ceremonies, and he strenuously 
endeavored to recall his people to the more pure and 
simple worship of the ancient Toltecs. A circumstance 
produced a temporary change in his conduct. 

He had been married some years to the wife he had 
so unrighteously obtained, but was not blessed with 
issue. The priests represented that it was owing to 
his neglect of the gods of his country, and that his 
only remedy was to propitiate them by human sacri- 
fice. The king reluctantly consented, and the altars 
once more smoked with the blood of slaughtered cap- 
tives. But it was all in vain; and he indignantly 
exclaimed, " These idols of wood and stone can neither 
hear nor feel ; much less could they make the heavens, 
and the earth, and man, the lord of it. These must 

rado ; y el, con toda la maquina que le parecia que tenia arto, no tenia 
nada; y asi lo despidi6." Ixtlilxochitl, loc. cit. 
58 Ibid. 



be the work of the all-powerful, unknown God, Creator 
of the universe, on whom alone I must rely for con- 
solation and support." S9 

He then withdrew to his rural palace of Tezcotzinco, 
where he remained forty days, fasting and praying at 
stated hours, and offering up no other sacrifice than the 
sweet incense of copal, and aromatic herbs and gums. 
At the expiration of this time, he is said to have been 
comforted by a vision assuring him of the success of 
his petition. At all events, such proved to be the fact ; 
and this was followed by the cheering intelligence of 
the triumph of his arms in a quarter where he had lately 
experienced some humiliating reverses. 6 " 

Greatly strengthened in his former religious convic- 
tions, he now openly professed his faith, and was more 
earnest to wean his subjects from their degrading 
superstitions and to substitute nobler and more spiritual 
conceptions of the Deity. He built a temple in the 
usual pyramidal form, and on the summit a tower nine 
stories high, to represent the nine heavens; a tenth 
was surmounted by a roof painted black, and profusely 

59 " Verdaderamcnte los Dioses que io adoro, que son idolos de 
piedra que no hablan, ni sienten, no pudieron hacer ni formar la her- 
mosura del cielo, el sol, luna, y estrellas que lo hermosean, y dan luz 
a la tierra, rios, aguas y fuentes, arboles, y plantas que la hermosean, 
las gentes que la poseen, y todo lo criado; algun Dios muy poderoso, 
oculto, y no conocido es el Criador de todo el universo. El solo es el 
que puede consolarme en mi afliccion, y socorrerme en tan grande 
angustia como mi corazon siente." MS. de Ixtlilxochitl. 

*° MS. de Ixtlilxochitl. — The manuscript here quoted is one of the 
many left by the author on the antiquities of his country, and forms 
part of a voluminous compilation made in Mexico by Father Vega, in 
1792, by order of the Spanish government. See Appendix, Part 2, 
No. 2. 

Vol. I.— 1 17 



gilded with stars, on the outside, and incrusted with 
metals and precious stones within. He dedicated this 
to "the unknown God, the Cause of causes." 61 It seems 
probable, from the emblem on the tower, as well as 
from the complexion of his verses, as we shall see, that 
he mingled with his reverence for the Supreme the 
astral worship which existed among the Toltecs. 62 Vari- 
ous musical instruments were placed on the top of the 
tower, and the sound of them, accompanied by the 
ringing of a sonorous metal struck by a mallet, sum- 
moned the worshippers to prayers, at regular seasons. 63 
No image was allowed in the edifice, as unsuited to the 
"invisible God;" and the people were expressly pro- 
hibited from profaning the altars with blood, or any 
other sacrifices than that of the perfume of flowers and 
sweet-scented gums. 

The remainder of his days was chiefly spent in his 
delicious solitudes of Tezcotzinco, where he devoted 
himself to astronomical and, probably, astrological 
studies, and to meditation on his immortal destiny, — 
giving utterance to his feelings in songs, or rather 
hymns, of much solemnity and pathos. An extract 

61 " Al Dios no conocido, causa de las causas." MS. de IxtlilxochitL 

62 Their earliest temples were dedicated to the sun. The moon they 
worshipped as his wife, and the stars as his sisters. (Veytia, Hist, 
antig., torn. i. cap. 25.) The ruins still existing at Teotihuacan, about 
seven leagues from Mexico, are supposed to have been temples raised 
by this ancient people in honor of the two great deities. Boturini, 
Idea, p. 42. 

6 3 MS. de IxtlilxochitL — " This was evidently a gong," says Mr. 
Ranking, who treads with enviable confidence over the " suppositos 
cineres," in the path of the antiquary. See his Historical Researches 
on the Conquest of Peru, Mexico, etc., by the Mongols (London, 
1827), p. 310. 



from one of these will convey some idea of his religious 
speculations. The pensive tenderness of the verses 
quoted in a preceding page is deepened here into a 
mournful, and even gloomy, coloring ; while the 
wounded spirit, instead of seeking relief in the convivial 
sallies of a young and buoyant temperament, turns for 
consolation to the world beyond the grave : 

"All things on earth have their term, and, in the 
most joyous career of their vanity and splendor, their 
strength fails, and they sink into the dust. All the 
round world is but a sepulchre ; and there is nothing 
which lives on its surface that shall not be hidden and 
entombed beneath it. Rivers, torrents, and streams 
move onward to their destination. Not one flows back 
to its pleasant source. They rush onward, hastening 
to bury themselves in the deep bosom of the ocean. 
The things of yesterday are no more to-day ; and the 
things of to-day shall cease, perhaps, on the morrow. 64 
The cemetery is full of the loathsome dust of bodies 
once quickened by living souls, who occupied thrones, 
presided over assemblies, marshalled armies, subdued 
provinces, arrogated to themselves worship, were puffed 
up with vain-glorious pomp, and power, and empire. 

" Eut these glories have all passed away, like the 
fearful smoke that issues from the throat of Popo- 

*4 " Toda la redondez de la tierra es un sepulcro .: no hay cosa que 
sustente que con titulo de piedad no la esconda y entierre. Corren 
los rios, los arroyos, las fuentes, y las aguas, y ningunas retroceden 
para sus alegres nacimientos : aceleranse con ansia para los vastos 
dominios de Tluloca [Neptuno], y cuanto mas se arriman &. sus dila- 
tadas margenes, tanto mas van labrando las melancolicas urnas para 
sepultarse. Lo que fue ayer no es hoy, ni lo de hoy se afianza que 
serd manana." 


catepetl, with no other memorial of their existence 
than the record on the page of the chronicler. 

"The great, the wise, the valiant, the beautiful, — 
alas ! where are they now ? They are all mingled with 
the clod ; and that which has befallen them shall happen 
to us, and to those that come after us. Yet let us take 
courage, illustrious nobles and chieftains, true friends 
and loyal subjects, — let us aspire to that heaven where 
all is eternal and corruption cannot come. 6 * The horrors 
of the tomb are but the cradle of the Sun, and the dark 
shadows of death are brilliant lights for the stars." 66 
The mystic import of the last sentence seems to point 
to that superstition respecting the mansions of the Sun, 
which forms so beautiful a contrast to the dark features 
of the Aztec mythology. 

At length, about the year 1470, 67 Nezahualcoyotl, 

6 5 " Aspiremos al cielo, que alii todo es eterno y nada se corrompe." 

66 " El horror del sepulcro es lisongera cuna para el, y las funestas 
sombras, brillantes luces para los astros." — The original text and a 
Spanish translation of this poem first appeared, I believe, in a work of 
Granados y Galvez. (Tardes Americanas (Mexico, 1778), p. 90, et 
seq.) The original is in the Otomi tongue, and both, together with 
a French version, have been inserted by M. Ternaux-Compans in the 
Appendix to his translation of IxtlilxochifTs Hist, des Chichimeques 
(torn. i. pp. 3S9-367.) Bustamante, who has, also, published the 
Spanish version in his Galeria de antiguos Principes Mejicanos 
(Puebla, 1821 (pp. 16, 17),), calls it the " Ode of the Flower," which 
was recited at a banquet of the great Tezcucan nobles. If this last, 
however, be the same mentioned by Torquemada (Monarch. Ind., 
lib. 2, cap. 45), it must have been written in the Tezcucan tongue; 
and, indeed, it is not probable that the Otomi, an Indian dialect, so 
distinct from the languages of Anahuac, however well understood by 
the royal poet, could have been comprehended by a miscellaneous 
audience of his countrymen. 

^7 An approximation to a date is the most one can hope to arrive 
at with Ixtlilxochitl, who has entangled his chronology in a manner 



full of years and honors, felt himself drawing near his 
end. Almost half a century had elapsed since he 
mounted the throne of Tezcuco. He had found his 
kingdom dismembered by faction and bowed to the dust 
beneath the yoke of a foreign tyrant. He had broken 
that yoke; had breathed new life into the nation, 
renewed its ancient institutions, extended wide its 
domain; had seen it flourishing in all the activity 
of trade and agriculture, gathering strength from its 
enlarged resources, and daily advancing higher and 
higher in the great march of civilization. All this he 
had seen, and might fairly attribute no small portion 
of it to his own wise and beneficent rule. His long 
and glorious day was now drawing to its close ; and he 
contemplated the event with the same serenity which 
he had shown under the clouds of its morning and in 
its meridian splendor. 

A short time before his death, he gathered around 
him those of his children in whom he most confided, 
his chief counsellors, the ambassadors of Mexico and 
Tlacopan, and his little son, the heir to the crown, his 
only offspring by the queen. He was then not eight 
years old, but had already given, as far as so tender a 
blossom might, the rich promise of future excellence. 68 

After tenderly embracing the child, the dying mon- 
arch threw over him the robes of sovereignty. He 
then gave audience to the ambassadors, and, when they 

beyond my skill to unravel. Thus, after telling us that Nezahualcoyotl 
was fifteen years old when his father was slain in 1418, he says he died 
at the age of seventy-one, in 1462. Instar omnium. Comp. Hist 
Chich., MS., cap. 18, 19, 49. 
68 MS. de Ixtlilxochitl,— also Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 49. 


had retired, made the boy repeat the substance of the 
conversation. He followed this by such counsels as 
were suited to his comprehension, and which, when re- 
membered through the long vista of after-years, would 
serve as lights to guide him in his government of the 
kingdom. He besought him not to neglect the wor- 
ship of " the unknown God," regretting that he himself 
had been unworthy to know him, and intimating his 
conviction that the time would come when he should 
be known and worshipped throughout the land. 69 

He next addressed himself to that one of his sons in 
whom he placed the greatest trust, and whom he had 
selected as the guardian of the realm. " From this 
hour," said he to him, "you will fill the place that I 
have filled, of father to this child ; you will teach him 
to live as he ought ; and by your counsels he will rule 
over the empire. Stand in his place, and be his guide, 
till he shall be of age to govern for himself." Then, 
turning to his other children, he admonished them to 
live united with one another, and to show all loyalty to 
their prince, who, though a child, already manifested 
a discretion far above his years. "Be true to him," 
he added, "and he will maintain you in your rights 
and dignities." 7 ° 

Feeling his end approaching, he exclaimed, "Do 
not bewail me with idle lamentations. But sing the 

69 " No consentiendo que haya sacrificios de gente humana, que 
Dios se enoja de ello, castigando con rigor a los que lo hicieren ; que 
el dolor que Uevo es no tener luz, ni conocimiento, ni ser merecedor 
de conocer tan gran Dios, el qual tengo por cierto que ya que los 
presentes no lo conozcan, ha de venir tiempo en que sea conocido y 
adorado en esta tierra." MS. de Ixtlilxochitl. 

7° Idem, ubi supra; also Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 49. 



song of gladness, and show a courageous spirit, that 
the nations I have subdued may not believe you dis- 
heartened, but may feel that each one of you is strong 
enough to keep them in obedience!" The undaunted 
spirit of the monarch shone forth even in the agonies 
of death. That stout heart, however, melted, as he 
took leave of his children and friends, weeping tenderly 
over them, while he bade each a last adieu. When 
they had withdrawn, he ordered the officers of the 
palace to allow no one to enter it again. Soon after, 
he expired, in the seventy-second year of his age, and 
the forty-third of his reign. 71 

Thus died the greatest monarch, and, if one foul blot 
could be effaced, perhaps the best, who ever sat upon 
an Indian throne. His character is delineated with 
tolerable impartiality by his kinsman, the Tezcucan 
chronicler: "He was wise, valiant, liberal; and, when 
we consider the magnanimity of his soul, the grandeur 
and success of his enterprises, his deep policy, as well 
as daring, we must admit him to have far surpassed 
every other prince and captain of this New World. He 
had few failings himself, and rigorously punished those 
of others. He preferred the public to his private in- 
terest ; was most charitable in his nature, often buy- 
ing articles, at double their worth, of poor and honest 
persons, and giving them away again to the sick and 
infirm. In seasons of scarcity he was particularly 
bountiful, remitting the taxes of his vassals, and sup- 
plying their wants from the royal granaries. He put 
no faith in the idolatrous worship of the country. He 
was well instructed in moral science, and sought, above 

V- Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 49. 


all things, to obtain light for knowing the true God. 
He believed in one God only, the Creator of heaven 
and earth, by whom we have our being, who never 
revealed himself to us in human form, nor in any 
other ; with whom the souls of the virtuous are to 
dwell after death, while the wicked will suffer pains 
unspeakable. He invoked the Most High, as ' He by 
whom we live,' and 'Who has all things in himself.' 
He recognized the Sun for his father, and the Earth 
for his mother. He taught his children not to confide 
in idols, and only to conform to the outward worship 
of them from deference to public opinion. 72 If he 
could not entirely abolish human sacrifices, derived 
from the Aztecs, he at least restricted them to slaves 
and captives. ' ' 73 

I have occupied so much space with this illustrious 
prince that but little remains for his son and successor, 
Nezahualpilli. I have thought it better, in our narrow 
limits, to present a complete view of a single epoch, 
the most interesting in the Tezcucan annals, than to 
spread the inquiries over a broader but comparatively 
barren field. Yet Nezahualpilli, the heir to the crown, 
was a remarkable person, and his reign contains many 
incidents which I regret to be obliged to pass over in 
silence. 74 

73 " Solia amonestar a sus hijos en secreto que no adorasen a aque- 
Uas figuras de idolos, y que aquello que hiciesen en publico fuese solo 
for cumplimiento." Ixtlilxochitl. 

73 Idem, ubi supra. 

74 The name Nezahualpilli signifies " the prince for whom one has 
fasted," — in allusion, no doubt, to the long fast of his father previous 
to his birth. (See Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 45.) I have 
explained the meaning of the equally euphonious name of his parent, 
Nezahualcoyotl. {Ante, ch. 4.) If it be true that 


He had, in many respects, a taste similar to his 
father's, and, like him, displayed a profuse magnifi- 
cence in his way of living and in his public edifices. 
He was more severe in his morals, and, in the execu- 
tion of justice, stern even to the sacrifice of natural 
affection. Several remarkable instances of this are 
told ; one, among others, in relation to his eldest son, 
the heir to the crown, a prince of great promise. The 
young man entered into a poetical correspondence 
with one of his father's concubines, the lady of Tula, 
as she was called, a woman of humble origin, but of 
uncommon endowments. She wrote verses with ease, 
and could discuss graver matters with the king and his 
ministers. She maintained a separate establishment, 
where she lived in state, and acquired, by her beauty 
and accomplishments, great ascendency over her royal 
lover. 75 With this favorite the prince carried on a 
correspondence in verse, — whether of an amorous 
nature does not appear. At all events, the offence 
was capital. It was submitted to the regular tribunal, 
who pronounced sentence of death on the unfortunate 

" Caesar or Epaminondas 
Could ne'er without names have been known to us," 

it is no less certain that such names as those of the two Tezcucan 
princes, so difficult to be pronounced or remembered by a European, 
are most unfavorable to immortality. 

75 " De las concubinas la que mas privo con el rey fue la que llama- 
ban la Sefiora de Tula, no por linage, sino porque era hija de un 
mercader, y era tan sabia que competia con el rey y con los mas 
sabios de su reyno, y era en la poesia muy aventajada, que con estas 
gracias y dones naturales tenia al rey muy sugeto £ su voluntad de 
tal manera que lo que queria alcanzaba de el, y asi vivia sola por si 
con grande aparato y magestad en unos palacios que el rey le mando 
edificar." Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 57. 


youth; and the king, steeling his heart against all 
entreaties and the voice of nature, suffered the cruel 
judgment to be carried into execution. We might, in 
this case, suspect the influence of baser passions on his 
mind, but it was not a solitary instance of his inex- 
orable justice towards those most near to him. He 
had the stern virtue of an ancient Roman, destitute of 
the softer graces which make virtue attractive. When 
the sentence was carried into effect, he shut himself up 
in his palace for many weeks, and commanded the 
doors and windows of his son's residence to be walled 
up, that it might never again be occupied. 76 

Nezahualpilli resembled his father in his passion for 
astronomical studies, and is said to have had an ob- 
servatory on one of his palaces. 77 He was devoted to 
war in his youth, but, as he advanced in years, resigned 
himself to a more indolent way of life, and sought his 
chief amusement in the pursuit of his favorite science, 
or in the soft pleasures of the sequestered gardens of 
Tezcotzinco. This quiet life was ill suited to the 
turbulent temper of the times, and of his Mexican 
rival, Montezuma. The distant provinces fell off from 

7 6 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 67. — TheTezcucan historian 
records several appalling examples of this severity, — one in particular, 
in relation to his guilty wife. The story, reminding one of the tales of 
an Oriental harem, has been translated for the Appendix, Part 2, No. 4. 
See also Torquemada (Monarch. Ind., lib. 2, cap. 66), and Zurita 
(Rapport, pp. 108, 109). He was the terror, in particular, of all unjust 
magistrates. They had little favor to expect from the man who could 
stifle the voice of nature in his own bosom in obedience to the laws. 
As Suetonius said of a prince who had not his virtue, " Vehemens et 
in coercendis quidem delictis immodicus." Vita Galbse, sec. 9. 

77 Torquemada saw the remains of this, or what passed for such, in 
his day. Monarch. Ind., lib. 2, cap. 64. 



their allegiance ; the army relaxed its discipline ; dis- 
affection crept into its ranks ; and the wily Monte- 
zuma, partly by violence, and partly by stratagems 
unworthy of a king, succeeded in plundering his brother 
monarch of some of his most valuable domains. Then 
it was that he arrogated to himself the title and su- 
premacy of emperor, hitherto borne by the Tezcucan 
princes as head of the alliance. Such is the account 
given by the historians of that nation, who in this 
way explain the acknowledged superiority of the Aztec 
sovereign, both in territory and consideration, on the 
landing of the Spaniards. 78 

These misfortunes pressed heavily on the spirits of 
Nezahualpilli. Their effect was increased by certain 
gloomy prognostics of a near calamity which was to 
overwhelm the country. 79 He withdrew to his retreat, 
to brood in secret over his sorrows. His health rapidly 
declined; and in the year 15 15, at the age of fifty- 
two, he sank into the grave; 80 happy, at least, that 
by this timely death he escaped witnessing the fulfil- 
ment of his own predictions, in the ruin of his country, 
and the extinction of the Indian dynasties forever. 81 

7 8 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 73, 74. — This sudden transfer 
of empire from the Tezcucans, at the close of the reigns of two of 
their ablest monarchs, is so improbable that one cannot but doubt if 
they ever possessed it, — at least, to the extent claimed by the patriotic 
historian. See ante, chap. 1, note 25, and the corresponding text. 

79 Ibid., cap. 72. — The reader will find a particular account of these 
prodigies, better authenticated than most miracles, in a future page 
of this History. 

80 Ibid., cap. 75. — Or, rather, at the age of fifty, if the historian is 
right in placing his birth, as he does in a preceding chapter, in 1465. 
(See cap. 46.) It is not easy to decide what is true, when the writer 
does not take the trouble to be true to himself. 

81 His obsequies were celebrated with sanguinary pomp. Two 


In reviewing the brief sketch here presented of the 
Tezcucan monarchy, we are strongly impressed with 
the conviction of its superiority, in all the great fea- 
tures of civilization, over the rest of Anahuac. The 
Mexicans showed a similar proficiency, no doubt, in 
the mechanic arts, and even in mathematical science. 
But in the science of government, in legislation, in 
speculative doctrines of a religious nature, in the more 
elegant pursuits of poetry, eloquence, and whatever 
depended on refinement of taste and a polished idiom, 
they confessed themselves inferior, by resorting to their 
rivals for instruction and citing their works as the 
masterpieces of their tongue. The best histories, the 
best poems, the best code of laws, the purest dialect, 
were all allowed to be Tezcucan. The Aztecs rivalled 
their neighbors in splendor of living, and even in the 
magnificence of their structures. They displayed a 
pomp and ostentatious pageantry truly Asiatic. But 
this was the development of the material rather than 
the intellectual principle. They wanted the refinement 
of manners essential to a continued advance in civil- 
ization. An insurmountable limit was put to theirs 
by that bloody mythology which threw its withering 
taint over the very air that they breathed. 

The superiority of the Tezcucans was owing, doubt- 
less, in a great measure to that of the two sovereigns 
whose reigns we have been depicting. There is no 

hundred male and one hundred female slaves were sacrificed at his 
tomb. His body was consumed, amidst a heap of jewels, precious 
stuffs, and incense, on a funeral pile ; and the ashes, deposited in a 
golden urn, were placed in the great temple of Huitzilopochtli, for 
whose worship the king, notwithstanding the lessons of his father, 
had some partiality. Ixtlilxochitl. 


position which affords such scope for ameliorating the 
condition of man as that occupied by an absolute ruler 
over a nation imperfectly civilized. From his elevated 
place, commanding all the resources of his age, it is 
in his power to diffuse them far and wide among his 
people. He may be the copious reservoir on the 
mountain-top, drinking in the dews of heaven, to send 
them in fertilizing streams along the lower slopes and 
valleys, clothing even the wilderness in beauty. Such 
were Nezahualcoyotl and his illustrious successor, whose 
enlightened policy, extending through nearly a century, 
wrought a most salutary revolution in the condition of 
their country. It is remarkable that we, the inhab- 
itants of the same continent, should be more familiar 
with the history of many a barbarian chief, both in the 
Old and New World, than with that of these truly 
great men, whose names are identified with the most 
glorious period in the annals of the Indian races. 

What was the actual amount of the Tezcucan civil- 
ization it is not easy to determine, with the imperfect 
light afforded us. It was certainly far below anything 
which the word conveys, measured by a European 
standard. In some of the arts, and in any walk of 
science, they could only have made, as it were, a be- 
ginning. But they had begun in the right way, and 
already showed a refinement in sentiment and manners, 
a capacity for receiving instruction, which, under good 
auspices, might have led them on to indefinite improve- 
ment. Unhappily, they were fast falling under the 
dominion of the warlike Aztecs. And that people 
repaid the benefits received from their more polished 
neighbors by imparting to them their own ferocious 
Vol. I. 18 


superstition, which, falling like a mildew on the land, 
would soon have blighted its rich blossoms of promise 
and turned even its fruits to dust and ashes. 

Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, who flourished in the beginning of 
the sixteenth century * was a native of Tezcuco, and descended in a 
direct line from the sovereigns of that kingdom. The royal posterity 
became so numerous in a few generations that it was common to see 
them reduced to great poverty and earning a painful subsistence by 
the most humble occupations. Ixtlilxochitl, who was descended 
from the principal wife or queen of Nezahualpilli, maintained a very 
respectable position. He filled the office of interpreter to the viceroy, 
to which he was recommended by his acquaintance with the ancient 
hieroglyphics and his knowledge of the Mexican and Spanish lan- 
guages. His birth gave him access to persons of the highest rank 
in his own nation, some of whom occupied important civil posts under 
the new government, and were thus enabled to make large collections 
of Indian manuscripts, which were liberally opened to him. He had 
an extensive library of his own, also, and with these means diligently 
pursued the study of the Tezcucan antiquities. He deciphered the 
hieroglyphics, made himself master of the songs and traditions, and 
fortified his narrative by the oral testimony of some very aged persons, 
who had themselves been acquainted with the Conquerors. From such 
authentic sources he composed various works in the Castilian, on the 
primitive history of the Toltec and the Tezcucan races, continuing 
it down to the subversion of the empire by Cortes. These various 
accounts, compiled under the title of Relaciones, are, more or less, 
repetitions and abridgments of each other; nor is it easy to under- 
stand why they were thus composed. The Historia Chichimeca is the 
best digested and most complete of the whole series, and as such has 
been the most frequently consulted for the preceding pages. 

Ixtlilxochitl's writings have many of the defects belonging to his 
age. He often crowds the page with incidents of a trivial, and some- 

* [Ixtlilxochitl wrote in the early part of the seventeenth century. 
A certificate which he presented to the viceroy bears the date of 
November 18, 1608. The error is apparently a clerical one ; though a 
previous passage in the text seems to indicate some confusion on the 
author's part. — ED. ] 



times improbable, character. The improbability increases with the 
distance of the period ; for distance, which diminishes objects to the 
natural eye, exaggerates them to the mental. His chronology, as I 
have more than once noticed, is inextricably entangled. He has often 
lent a too willing ear to traditions and reports which would startle the 
more skeptical criticism of the present time. Yet there is an appear- 
ance of good faith and simplicity in his writings, which may convince 
the reader that when he errs it is from no worse cause than national 
partiality. And surely such partiality is excusable in the descendant 
of a proud line, shorn of its ancient splendors, which it was soothing 
to his own feelings to revive again — though with something more than 
their legitimate lustre — on the canvas of history. It should also be 
considered that, if his narrative is sometimes startling, his researches 
penetrate into the mysterious depths of antiquity, where light and 
darkness meet and melt into each other, and where everything is still 
further liable to distortion, as seen through the misty medium of hiero- 

With these allowances, it will be found that the Tezcucan historian 
has just claims to our admiration for the compass of his inquiries and 
the sagacity with which they have been conducted. He has introduced 
us to the knowledge of the most polished people of Anahuac, whose 
records, if preserved, could not, at a much later period, have been 
comprehended ; and he has thus afforded a standard of comparison 
which much raises our ideas of American civilization. His language 
is simple, and, occasionally, eloquent and touching. His descriptions 
are highly picturesque. He abounds in familiar anecdote ; and the 
natural graces of his manner, in detailing the more striking events of 
history and the personal adventures of his heroes, entitle him to the 
name of the Livy of Anahuac. 

I shall be obliged to enter hereafter into his literary merits, in con- 
nection with the narrative of the Conquest ; for which he is a prominent 
authority. His earlier annals — though no one of his manuscripts has 
been printed — have been diligently studied by the Spanish writers in 
Mexico, and liberally transferred to their pages ; and his reputation, 

* [Sefior Ramirez objects to this remark, on the ground that, 
however obscure the hieroglyphics may now seem, at the time of 
Ixtlilxochitl they were, in his language, "as plain as our letters to 
those who were acquainted with them." Notas y Esclarecimientos, 
p. 10. — ED.] 


like Sahagun's, has doubtless suffered by the process. His Historia 
Chichimeca is now turned into French by M. Ternaux - Compans, 
forming part of that inestimable series of translations from unpub- 
lished documents which have so much enlarged our acquaintance with 
the early American history. I have had ample opportunity of proving 
the merits of his version of Ixtlilxochitl, and am happy to bear my 
testimony to the fidelity and elegance with which it is executed. 

NOTE. — It was my intention to conclude this Introductory portion 
of the work with an inquiry into the Origin of the Mexican Civiliza- 
tion. " But the general question of the origin of the inhabitants of a 
continent," says Humboldt, "is beyond the limits prescribed to his- 
tory; perhaps it is not even a philosophic question." "For the 
majority of readers," says Livy, " the origin and remote antiquities 
of a nation can have comparatively little interest." The criticism of 
these great writers is just and pertinent ; and, on further consideration, 
I have thrown the observations on this topic, prepared with some care, 
into the Appendix (Part i) ; to which those who feel sufficient curiosity 
in the discussion can turn before entering on the narrative of the 



18* ( 209 ) 






In the beginning of the sixteenth century, Spain 
occupied perhaps the most prominent position on the 
theatre of Europe. The numerous states into which 
she had been so long divided were consolidated into 
one monarchy. The Moslem crescent, after reigning 
there for eight centuries, was no longer seen on her 
borders. The authority of the crown did not, as in 
later times, overshadow the inferior orders of the state. 
The people enjoyed the inestimable privilege of polit- 
ical representation, and exercised it with manly inde- 
pendence. The nation at large could boast as great a 
degree of constitutional freedom as any other, at that 
time, in Christendom. Under a system of salutary 
laws and an equitable administration, domestic tran- 
quillity was secured, public credit established, trade, 
manufactures, and even the more elegant arts, began 
to flourish ; while a higher education called forth the 



first blossoms of that literature which was to ripen into 
so rich a harvest before the close of the century. Arms 
abroad kept pace with arts at home. Spain found her 
empire suddenly enlarged by important acquisitions 
both in Europe and Africa, while a New World beyond 
the waters poured into her lap treasures of countless 
wealth and opened an unbounded field for honorable 

Such was the condition of the kingdom at the close 
of the long and glorious reign of Ferdinand and Isa- 
bella, when, on the 23d of January, 15 16, the sceptre 
passed into the hands of their daughter Joanna, or 
rather their grandson, Charles the Fifth, who alone 
ruled the monarchy during the long and imbecile 
existence of his unfortunate mother. During the two 
years following Ferdinand's death, the regency, in the 
absence of Charles, was held by Cardinal Ximenes, 
a man whose intrepidity, extraordinary talents, and 
capacity for great enterprises were accompanied by a 
haughty spirit, which made him too indifferent as to 
the means of their execution. His administration, 
therefore, notwithstanding the uprightness of his in- 
tentions, was, from his total disregard of forms, unfa- 
vorable to constitutional liberty ; for respect for forms 
is an essential element of freedom. With all his faults, 
however, Ximenes was a Spaniard ; and the object he 
had at heart was the good of his country. 

It was otherwise on the arrival of Charles, who, after 
a long absence, came as a foreigner into the land of 
his fathers. (November, 15 17.) His manners, sym- 
pathies, even his language, were foreign, for he spoke 
the Castilian with difficulty. He knew little of his 



native country, of the character of the people or their 
institutions. He seemed to care still less for them ; 
while his natural reserve precluded that freedom of 
communication which might have counteracted, to 
some extent, at least, the errors of education. In 
everything, in short, he was a foreigner, and resigned 
himself to the direction of his Flemish counsellors 
with a docility that gave little augury of his future 

On his entrance into Castile, the young monarch 
was accompanied by a swarm of courtly sycophants, 
who settled, like locusts, on every place of profit and 
honor throughout the kingdom. A Fleming was made 
grand chancellor of Castile; another Fleming was 
placed in the archiepiscopal see of Toledo. They 
even ventured to profane the sanctity of the cortes, 
by intruding themselves on its deliberations. Yet that 
body did not tamely submit to these usurpations, but 
gave vent to its indignation in tones becoming the 
representatives of a free people. 1 

1 The following passage — one among many — from that faithful 
mirror of the times, Peter Martyr's correspondence, does ample jus- 
tice to the intemperance, avarice, and intolerable arrogance of the 
Flemings. The testimony is worth the more, as coming from one who, 
though resident in Spain, was not a Spaniard. " Crumenas auro 
fulcire inhiant ; huic uni studio invigilant. Nee detrectat juvenis Rex. 
Farcit quacunque posse datur ; non satiat tamen. Quae qualisve sit 
gens hasc, depingere adhuc nescio. Insuffiat vulgus hie in omne 
genus hominum non arctoum. Minores faciunt Hispanos, quam si 
nati essent inter eorum cloacas. Rugiunt jam Hispani, labra mordent, 
submurmurant taciti, fatorum vices tales esse conqueruntur, quod ipsi 
domitores regnorum ita floccifiant ab his, quorum Deus unicus (sub 
rege temperato) Bacchus est cum Citherea." Opus Epistolarum 
(Amstelodami, 1610), ep. 608. 



The deportment of Charles, so different from that 
to which the Spaniards had been accustomed under 
the benign administration of Ferdinand and Isabella, 
closed all hearts against him ; and, as his character 
came to be understood, instead of the spontaneous 
outpourings of loyalty which usually greet the acces- 
sion of a new and youthful sovereign, he was every- 
where encountered by opposition and disgust. In 
Castile, and afterwards in Aragon, Catalonia, and 
Valencia, the commons hesitated to confer on him the 
title of King during the lifetime of his mother ; and, 
though they eventually yielded this point, and asso- 
ciated his name with hers in the sovereignty, yet they 
reluctantly granted the supplies he demanded, and, 
when they did so, watched over their appropriation 
with a vigilance which left little to gratify the cupidity 
of the Flemings. The language of the legislature on 
these occasions, though temperate and respectful, 
breathes a spirit of resolute independence not to be 
found, probably, on the parliamentary records of any 
other nation at that period. No wonder that Charles 
should have early imbibed a disgust for these popular 
assemblies, — the only bodies whence truths so unpal- 
atable could find their way to the ears of the sover- 
eign ! 2 Unfortunately, they had no influence on his 
conduct ; till the discontent, long allowed to fester in 

2 Yet the nobles were not all backward in manifesting their disgust. 
When Charles would have conferred the famous Burgundian order of 
the Golden Fleece on the Count of Benavente, that lord refused it, 
proudly telling him, " I am a Castilian. I desire no honors but those 
of my own country, in my opinion quite as good as — indeed, better 
than — those of any other." Sandoval, Historia de la Vida y Hechos 
del Emperador Carlos V. (Amberes, 1681), torn. i. p. 103. 



secret, broke out in that sad war of the comunidades, 
which shook the state to its foundations and ended in 
the subversion of its liberties.* 

The same pestilent foreign influence was felt, though 
much less sensibly, in the colonial administration. 
This had been placed, in the preceding reign, under 
the immediate charge of the two great tribunals, the 
Council of the Indies, and the Casa de Contratacion, 
or India House, at Seville. It was their business to 

* [The tone of the preceding paragraphs is that of the Spanish 
chroniclers of the seventeenth century, and shows how the author, 
despite his natural candor and impartiality of mind, had acquired in- 
sensibly the habit of considering questions that affected Spain from 
the national point of view of the class of writers with whom his studies 
had made him most familiar. Spain is called the "native country" 
of Charles V., and the " land of his fathers," although, as hardly any 
reader will need to be reminded, he was born in the Netherlands and 
was of Spanish descent only on the maternal side. The term " for- 
eigner" is applied to him as if it indicated some vicious trait in his 
nature ; and the training which he had received as the heir to the 
Austro-Burgundian dominions is spoken of as erroneous, merely 
because it had not fitted him for a different position. His manners 
are contrasted with those of native Spanish sovereigns, as if wanting 
in graciousness and affability ; yet the Spaniards, who alone ever 
made this complaint, recognized their own ideal of royal demeanor 
in that of the taciturn and phlegmatic Philip II. In like manner, 
Charles is supposed to have made his first acquaintance with free in- 
stitutions on his arrival in Spain ; whereas he had been brought up in 
a country where the power of the sovereign was perhaps more closely 
restricted by the chartered rights and immunities of the subject than 
was the case in any other part of Europe. That the union of Spain 
and the Netherlands was a most incongruous one, disastrous to the 
freedom, the independence, and the development of both countries, 
is undeniable ; but it was not Charles's early partiality for the one, but 
his successor's far stronger partiality for the other, which rendered the 
incompatibility apparent and led to a rupture of the connection. — En.] 


further the progress of discovery, watch over the infant 
settlements, and adjust the disputes which grew up in 
them. But the licenses granted to private adventurers 
did more for the cause of discovery than the patronage 
of the crown or its officers. The long peace, enjoyed 
with slight interruption by Spain in the early part of 
the sixteenth century, was most auspicious for this; 
and the restless cavalier, who could no longer win 
laurels on the fields of Africa or Europe, turned with 
eagerness to the brilliant career opened to him beyond 
the ocean. 

It is difficult for those of our time, as familiar from 
childhood with the most remote places on the globe as 
with those in their own neighborhood, to picture to 
themselves the feelings of the men who lived in the 
sixteenth century. The dread mystery which had so 
long hung over the great deep had, indeed, been re- 
moved. It was no longer beset with the same unde- 
fined horrors as when Columbus launched his bold bark 
on its dark and unknown waters. A new and glorious 
world had been thrown open. But as to the precise 
spot where that world lay, its extent, its history, 
whether it were island or continent, — of all this they 
had very vague and confused conceptions. Many, in 
their ignorance, blindly adopted the erroneous con- 
clusion into which the great Admiral had been led by 
his superior science, — that the new countries were a 
part of Asia ; and, as the mariner wandered among the 
Bahamas, or steered his caravel across the Caribbean 
Seas, he fancied he was inhaling the rich odors of the 
spice-islands in the Indian Ocean. Thus every fresh 
discovery, interpreted by this previous delusion, served 



to confirm him in his error, or, at least, to fill his mind 
with new perplexities. 

The career thus thrown open had all the fascinations 
of a desperate hazard, on which the adventurer staked 
all his hopes of fortune, fame, and life itself. It was 
not often, indeed, that he won the rich prize which he 
most coveted ; but then he was sure to win the meed 
of glory, scarcely less dear to his chivalrous spirit; 
and, if he survived to return to his home, he had 
wonderful stories to recount, of perilous chances among 
the strange people he had visited, and the burning 
climes whose rank fertility and magnificence of vege- 
tation so far surpassed anything he had witnessed in 
his own. These reports added fresh fuel to imagina- 
tions already warmed by the study of those tales of 
chivalry which formed the favorite reading of the 
Spaniards at that period. Thus romance and reality 
acted on each other, and the soul of the Spaniard was 
exalted to that pitch of enthusiasm which enabled him 
to encounter the terrible trials that lay in the path of 
the discoverer. Indeed, the life of the cavalier of that 
day was romance put into action. The story of his 
adventures in the New World forms one of the most 
remarkable pages in the history of man. 

Under this chivalrous spirit of enterprise, the pro- 
gress of discovery had extended, by the beginning of 
Charles the Fifth's reign, from the Bay of Honduras, 
along the winding shores of Darien, and the South 
American continent, to the Rio de la Plata. The 
mighty barrier of the Isthmus had been climbed, and 
the Pacific descried, by Nunez de Balboa, second only 
to Columbus in this valiant band of "ocean chivalry." 
Vol. I. — k 19 


The Bahamas and Caribbee Islands had been explored, 
as well as the Peninsula of Florida on the northern 
continent. This latter point had been reached by 
Sebastian Cabot in his descent along the coast from 
Labrador, in 1497. So that before 15 18, the period 
when our narrative begins, the eastern borders of both 
the great continents had been surveyed through nearly 
their whole extent. The shores of the great Mexican 
Gulf, however, sweeping with a wide circuit far into 
the interior, remained still concealed, with the rich 
realms that lay beyond, from the eye of the navigator. 
The time had now come for their discovery. 

The business of colonization had kept pace with that 
of discovery. In several of the islands, and in various 
parts of Terra Firma, and in Darien, settlements had 
been established, under the control of governors who 
affected the state and authority of viceroys. Grants 
of land were assigned to the colonists, on which they 
raised the natural products of the soil, but gave still 
more attention to the sugar-cane, imported from the 
Canaries. Sugar, indeed, together with the beautiful 
dye-woods of the country and the precious metals, 
formed almost the only articles of export in the in- 
fancy of the colonies, which had not yet introduced 
those other staples of the West Indian commerce which 
in our day constitute its principal wealth. Yet the 
precious metals, painfully gleaned from a few scanty 
sources, would have made poor returns, but for the 
gratuitous labor of the Indians. 

The cruel system of refarthnientos, or distribution 
of the Indians as slaves among the conquerors, had 
been suppressed by Isabella. Although subsequently 



countenanced by the government, it was under the 
most careful limitations. But it is impossible to li- 
cense crime by halves, — to authorize injustice at all, 
and hope to regulate the measure of it. The eloquent 
remonstrances of the Dominicans, — who devoted them- 
selves to the good work of conversion in the New 
World with the same zeal that they showed for perse- 
cution in the Old, — but, above all, those of Las Casas, 
induced the regent, Ximenes, to send out a commission 
with full powers to inquire into the alleged grievances 
and to redress them. It had authority, moreover, to 
investigate the conduct of the civil officers, and to 
reform any abuses in their administration. This ex- 
traordinary commission consisted of three Hieronymite 
friars and an eminent jurist, all men of learning and 
unblemished piety. 

They conducted the inquiry in a very dispassionate 
manner, but, after long deliberation, came to a con- 
clusion most unfavorable to the demands of Las Casas, 
who insisted on the entire freedom of the natives. This 
conclusion the)'' justified on the grounds that the In- 
dians would not labor without compulsion, and that, 
unless they labored, they could not be brought into 
communication with the whites, nor be converted to 
Christianity. Whatever we may think of this argu- 
ment, it was doubtless urged with sincerity by its 
advocates, whose conduct through their whole admin- 
istration places their motives above suspicion. They 
accompanied it with many careful provisions for the 
protection of the natives. But in vain. The simple 
people, accustomed all their days to a life of indolence 
and ease, sank under the oppressions of their masters, 


and the population wasted away with even more fright- 
ful rapidity than did the aborigines in our own country 
under the operation of other causes. It is not neces- 
sary to pursue these details further, into which I have 
been led by the desire to put the reader in posses- 
sion of the general policy and state of affairs in the 
New World at the period when the present narrative 
begins. 3 

Of the islands, Cuba was the second discovered ; but 
no attempt had been made to plant a colony there 
during the lifetime of Columbus, who, indeed, after 
skirting the whole extent of its southern coast, died in 
the conviction that it was part of the continent. 4 At 
length, in 15 n, Diego, the son and successor of the 
"Admiral," who still maintained the seat of govern- 
ment in Hispaniola, finding the mines much exhausted 
there, proposed to occupy the neighboring island of 
Cuba, or Fernandina, as it was called in compliment 
to the Spanish monarch. 5 He prepared a small force 

3 I will take the liberty to refer the reader who is desirous of being 
more minutely acquainted with the Spanish colonial administration 
and the state of discovery previous to Charles V., to the " History of 
the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella" (Part 2, ch. 9, 26), where the 
subject is treated in extcnso* 

4 See the curious document attesting this, and drawn up by order 
of Columbus, ap. Navarrete, Coleccion de los Viages y de Descubri- 
mientos (Madrid, 1825), torn. ii. Col. Dip., No. 76. 

5 The island was originally called by Columbus Juana, in honor of 

* [All the documents relative to the commission sent out by 
Ximenes, including many reports from the commissioners, have been 
printed in the Col. de Doc. ined. relativos al Descubrimiento, Con- 
quista y Colonizacion de las Posesiones espafiolas en America y Oce- 
ania, torn. i. — Ed.] 


for the conquest, which he placed under the command 
of Don Diego Velasquez ; a man described by a con- 
temporary as "possessed of considerable experience in 
military affairs, having served seventeen years in the 
European wars; as honest, illustrious by his lineage 
and reputation, covetous of glory, and somewhat more 
covetous of wealth." 6 The portrait was sketched by 
no unfriendly hand. 

Velasquez, or rather his lieutenant, Narvaez, who 
took the office on himself of scouring the country, met 
with no serious opposition from the inhabitants, who 
were of the same family with the effeminate natives of 
Hispaniola. The conquest, through the merciful inter- 
position of Las Casas, "the protector of the Indians," 
who accompanied the army in its march, was effected 
without much bloodshed. One chief, indeed, named 
Hatuey, having fled originally from St. Domingo to 
escape the oppression of its invaders, made a desperate 
resistance, for which he was condemned by Velasquez 
to be burned alive. It was he who made that memor- 
able reply, more eloquent than a volume of invective. 
When urged at the stake to embrace Christianity, that 
his soul might find admission into heaven, he inquired 
if the white men would go there. On being answered 
in the affirmative, he exclaimed, "Then I will not be 

Prince John, heir to the Castilian crown. After his death it received 
the name of Fernandina, at the king's desire. The Indian name has 
survived both. Herrera, Hist, general, Descrip., cap. 6. 

6 " Erat Didacus, ut hoc in loco de eo semel tantum dicamus, vete- 
ranus miles, rei militaris gnarus, quippe qui septem et decern annos 
in Hispania militiam exercitus fuerat, homo probus, opibus, genere et 
fama clarus, honoris cupidus, pecuniae aliquanto cupidior." De Re- 
bus gestis Ferdinandi Cortesii, MS. 


a Christian ; for I would not go again to a place where 
I must find men so cruel ! " 7 

After the conquest, Velasquez, now appointed gov- 
ernor, diligently occupied himself with measures for 
promoting the prosperity of the island. He formed a 
number of settlements, bearing the same names with 
the modern towns, and made St. Jago, on the south- 
east corner, the seat of government. 8 He invited 
settlers by liberal grants of land and slaves. He en- 
couraged them to cultivate the soil, and gave particular 
attention to the sugar-cane, so profitable an article of 
commerce in later times. He was, above all, intent 
on working the gold-mines, which promised better re- 
turns than those in Hispaniola. The affairs of his 
government did not prevent him, meanwhile, from 
casting many a wistful glance at the discoveries going 
forward on the continent, and he longed for an oppor- 
tunity to embark in these golden adventures himself. 
Fortune gave him the occasion he desired. 

An hidalgo of Cuba, named Hernandez de Cordova, 
sailed with three vessels on an expedition to one of the 
neighboring Bahama Islands, in quest of Indian slaves. 
(February 8, 15 17.) He encountered a succession of 
heavy gales which drove him far out of his course, and 

7 The story is told by Las Casas in his appalling record of the cruel- 
ties of his countrymen in the New World, which charity — and com- 
mon sense — may excuse us for believing the good father has greatly 
overcharged. Brevissima Relacion de la Destruycion de las Indias 
(Venetia, 1643), p. 28. 

8 Among the most ancient of these establishments we find the 
Havana, Puerto del Principe, Trinidad, St. Salvador, and Matanzas, 
or the Slaughter, so called from a massacre of the Spaniards there by 
the Indians. Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 8. 



at the end of three weeks he found himself on a strange 
and unknown coast. On landing and asking the name 
of the country, he was answered by the natives, " Tec- 
tetan" meaning "I do not understand you," — but 
which the Spaniards, misinterpreting into the name of 
the place, easily corrupted into Yucatan. Some writers 
give a different etymology. 9 Such mistakes, however, 
were not uncommon with the early discoverers, and 
have been the origin of many a name on the American 

Cordova had landed on the northeastern end of the 
peninsula, at Cape Catoche. He was astonished at the 
size and solid materials of the buildings, constructed of 
stone and lime, so different from the frail tenements of 
reeds and rushes which formed the habitations of the 
islanders. He was struck, also, with the higher culti- 
vation of the soil, and with the delicate texture of the 
cotton garments and gold ornaments of the natives. 
Everything indicated a civilization far superior to any 
thing he had before witnessed in the New World. He 
saw the evidence of a different race, moreover, in the 
warlike spirit of the people. Rumors of the Spaniards 
had, perhaps, preceded them, as they were repeatedly 

9 Gomara, Historia de las Indias, cap. 52, ap. Barcia, torn. ii. — Ber- 
nal Diaz says the word came from the vegetable yuca, and tale the 
name for a hillock in which it is planted. (Hist, de la Conquista, 
cap. 6.) M. Waldeck finds a much more plausible derivation in the 
Indian word Ouyouckatan, " listen to what they say." Voyage pitto- 
resque, p. 25. 

10 Two navigators, Soils and Pinzon, had descried the coast as far 
back as 1506, according to Herrera, though they had not taken pos- 
session of it. (Hist, general, dec. I, lib. 6, cap. 17.) It is, indeed, 
remarkable it should so long have eluded discovery, considering that 
it is but two degrees distant from Cuba. 



asked if they came from the east ; and, wherever they 
landed, they were met with the most deadly hostility. 
Cordova himself, in one of his skirmishes with the 
Indians, received more than a dozen wounds, and one 
only of his party escaped unhurt. At length, when 
he had coasted the peninsula as far as Campeachy, he 
returned to Cuba, which he reached after an absence 
of several months, having suffered all the extremities of 
ill which these pioneers of the ocean were sometimes 
called to endure, and which none but the most coura- 
geous spirit could have survived. As it was, half the 
original number, consisting of one hundred and ten 
men, perished, including their brave commander, who 
died soon after his return. The reports he had brought 
back of the country, and, still more, the specimens of 
curiously wrought gold, convinced Velasquez of the 
importance of this discovery, and he prepared with all 
despatch to avail himself of it." 

He accordingly fitted out a little squadron of four 
vessels for the newly-discovered lands, and placed it 
under the command of his nephew, Juan de Grijalva, a 
man on whose probity, prudence, and attachment to 
himself he knew he could rely. The fleet left the port 
of St. Jago de Cuba, May i, 1518." It took the course 

" Oviedo, General y natural Historia de las Indias, MS., lib. 33, 
cap. 1. — De Rebus gestis, MS. — Carta del Cabildo de Vera Cruz 
(July 10, 1519), MS. — Bernal Diaz denies that the original object of 
the expedition, in which he took part, was to procure slaves, though 
Velasquez had proposed it. (Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 2.) But he 
is contradicted in this by the other contemporary records above cited. 

12 Itinerario de la Isola de Iuchathan, novamente ritrovata per il 
Signor Joan de Grijalva, per ilsuo Capellano, MS. — The chaplain's word 
may be taken for the date, which is usually put at the eighth of April. 


pursued by Cordova, but was driven somewhat to the 
south, the first land that it made being the island of 
Cozumel. From this quarter Grijalva soon passed over 
to the continent, and coasted the peninsula, touching 
at the same places as his predecessor. Everywhere he 
was struck, like him, with the evidences of a higher 
civilization, especially in the architecture ; as he well 
might be, since this was the region of those extraor- 
dinary remains which have become recently the sub- 
ject of so much speculation. He was astonished, also, 
at the sight of large stone crosses, evidently objects of 
worship, which he met with in various places. Re- 
minded by these circumstances of his own country, he 
gave the peninsula the name of " New Spain," a name 
since appropriated to a much wider extent of territory. 13 

Wherever Grijalva landed, he experienced the same 
unfriendly reception as Cordova; though he suffered 
less, being better prepared to meet it. In the Rio de 
Tabasco, or Grijalva, as it is often called, after him, 
he held an amicable conference with a chief who gave 
him a number of gold plates fashioned into a sort of 
armor. As he wound round the Mexican coast, one 
of his captains, Pedro de Alvarado, afterwards famous 
in the Conquest, entered a river, to which he, also, 
left his own name. In a neighboring stream, called 
the Rio de Vanderas, or "River of Banners," from the 
ensigns displayed by the natives on its borders, Gri- 
jalva had the first communication with the Mexicans 

The cacique who ruled over this province had re- 
ceived notice of the approach of the Europeans, and 

*3 De Rebus gestis, MS. — Itineraries del Capellano, MS. 


of their extraordinary appearance. He was anxious to 
collect all the information he could respecting them 
and the motives of their visit, that he might transmit 
them to his master, the Aztec emperor. 14 A friendly 
conference took place between the parties on shore, 
where Grijalva landed with all his force, so as to make 
a suitable impression on the mind of the barbaric chief. 
The interview lasted some hours, though, as there was 
no one on either side to interpret the language of the 
other, they could communicate only by signs. They, 
however, interchanged presents, and the Spaniards had 
the satisfaction of receiving, for a few worthless toys 
and trinkets, a rich treasure of jewels, gold ornaments 
and vessels, of the most fantastic forms and workman- 
ship. 13 

Grijalva now thought that in this successful traffic — 
successful beyond his most sanguine expectations — he 
had accomplished the chief object of his mission. He 
steadily refused the solicitations of his followers to 
plant a colony on the spot, — a work of no little diffi- 
culty in so populous and powerful a country as this 
appeared to be. To this, indeed, he was inclined, but 
deemed it contrary to his instructions, which limited 
him to barter with the natives. He therefore despatched 

M According to the Spanish authorities, the cacique was sent with 
these presents from the Mexican sovereign, who had received previous 
tidings of the approach of the Spaniards. I have followed Sahagun, 
who obtained his intelligence directly from the natives. Historia de 
la Conquista, MS., cap. 2. 

*5 Gomara has given the per and contra of this negotiation, in which 
gold and jewels of the value of fifteen or twenty thousand pesos de 
oro were exchanged for glass beads, pins, scissors, and other trinkets 
common in an assorted cargo for savages. Cr6nica, cap. 6. 



Alvarado in one of the caravels back to Cuba, with the 
treasure and such intelligence as he had gleaned of the 
great empire in the interior, and then pursued his 
voyage along the coast. 

He touched at San Juan de Ulua, and at the Isla dc 
los Sacrificios, so called by him from the bloody re- 
mains of human victims found in one of the temples. 
He then held on his course as far as the province of 
Panuco, where, finding some difficulty in doubling a 
boisterous headland, he returned on his track, and, 
after an absence of nearly six months, reached Cuba in 
safety. Grijalva has the glory of being the first navi- 
gator who set foot on the Mexican, soil and opened an 
intercourse with the Aztecs. 16 

On reaching the island, he was surprised to learn 
that another and more formidable armament had been 
fitted out to follow up his own discoveries, and to find 
orders, at the same time, from the governor, couched 
in no very courteous language, to repair at once to St. 
Jago. He was received by that personage not merely 
with coldness, but with reproaches for having neglected 
so fair an opportunity of establishing a colony in the 
country he had visited. Velasquez was one of those 
captious spirits who, when things do not go exactly to 
their minds, are sure to shift the responsibility of the 
failure from their own shoulders, where it should lie, 
to those of others. He had an ungenerous nature, 
says an old writer, credulous, and easily moved to 
suspicion. 17 In the present instance it was most 

16 Itinerario del Capellano, MS. — Carta de Vera Cruz, MS. 
J 7 " Hombre de terrible condition," says Herrera, citing the good 
Bishop of Chiapa, " para los que le Servian, i aiudaban, i que facil- 


unmerited. Grijalva, naturally a modest, unassuming 
person, had acted in obedience to the instructions of 
his commander, given before sailing, and had done 
this in opposition to his own judgment and the impor- 
tunities of his followers. His conduct merited any- 
thing but censure from his employer. 18 

When Alvarado had returned to Cuba with his golden 
freight, and the accounts of the rich empire of Mexico 
which he had gathered from the natives, the heart of 
the governor swelled with rapture as he saw his dreams 
of avarice and ambition so likely to be realized. Im- 
patient of the long absence of Grijalva, he despatched 
a vessel in search of him under the command of Olid, 
a cavalier who took an important part afterwards in the 
Conquest. Finally he resolved to fit out another arma- 
ment on a sufficient scale to insure the subjugation of 
the country. 

He previously solicited authority for this from the 
Hieronymite commission in St. Domingo. He then 
despatched his chaplain to Spain with the royal share 
of the gold brought from Mexico, and a full account 
of the intelligence gleaned there. He set forth his 
own manifold services, and solicited from the court full 
powers to go on with the conquest and colonization of 
the newly-discovered regions. 19 Before receiving an 

mente se indignaba contra aquellos." Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 3, 
cap. 10. 

18 At least, such is the testimony of Las Casas, who knew both the 
parties well, and had often conversed with Grijalva upon his voyage. 
Historia general de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 113. 

x 9 Itinerario del Capellano, MS. — Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, 
MS., lib. 3, cap. 113. — The most circumstantial account of Grijalva's 
expedition is to be found in the Itinerary of his chaplain above quoted. 



answer, he began his preparations for the armament, 
and, first of all, endeavored to find a suitable person to 
share the expense of it and to take the command. Such 
a person he found, after some difficulty and delay, in 
Hernando Cortes ; the man of all others best calculated 
to achieve this great enterprise, — the last man to whom 
Velasquez, could he have foreseen the results, would 
have confided it. 

The original is lost, but an indifferent Italian version was published at 
Venice in 1522. A copy, which belonged to Ferdinand Columbus, is 
still extant in the library of the great church of Seville. The book 
had become so exceedingly rare, however, that the historiographer 
Mufloz made a transcript of it with his own hand; and from his 
manuscript that in my possession was taken. 

Vol. I. 





Hernando Cortes was born at Medellin, a town in 
the southeast corner of Estremadura, 1 in 1485. 3 He 
came of an ancient and respectable family; and histo- 
rians have gratified the national vanity by tracing it up 
to the Lombard kings, whose descendants crossed the 
Pyrenees and established themselves in Aragon under 
the Gothic monarchy. 3 This royal genealogy was not 

1 [The house in which he was bom, in the Calle de la Feria, was 
preserved until the present century, and many a traveller has lodged 
there, desirous, says Alaman, of sleeping in the mansion where the 
hero was born. In the year 1809 the building was destroyed by the 
French, and only a few fragments of wall now remain to commemo- 
rate the birthplace of the Conqueror. Alaman, Disertaciones historicas, 
torn. ii. p. 2.] 

2 Gomara, Cronica, cap. 1. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, 
cap. 203. I find no more precise notice of the date of his birth, 
except, indeed, by Pizarro y Orellana, who tells us " that Cortes came 
into the world the same day that that itifernal beast, the false heretic 
Luther, entered it, — by way of compensation, no doubt, since the 
labors of the one to pull down the true faith were counterbalanced by 
those of the other to maintain and extend it" ! (Varones ilustres del 
Nuevo-Mundo (Madrid, 1639), p. 66.) But this statement of the good 
cavalier, which places the birth of our hero in 1483, looks rather more 
like a zeal for " the true faith" than for historic. 

3 Argensola, in particular, has bestowed great pains on the prosapia 

( 230 ) 


found out till Cortes had acquired a name which would 
confer distinction on any descent, however noble. His 
father, Martin Cortes de Monroy, was a captain of 
infantry, in moderate circumstances, but a man of 
unblemished honor ; and both he and his wife, Dona 
Catalina Pizarro Altamirano, appear to have been much 
regarded for their excellent qualities. 4 

In his infancy Cortes is said to have had a feeble 
constitution, which strengthened as he grew older. 5 
At fourteen, he was sent to Salamanca, as his father, 
who conceived great hopes from his quick and showy 
parts, proposed to educate him for the law, a profes- 
sion which held out better inducements to the young 
aspirant than any other. The son, however, did not 
conform to these views. He showed little fondness for 
books, and, after loitering away two years at college, 
returned home, to the great chagrin of his parents. 
Yet his time had not been wholly misspent, since he 
had laid up a little store of Latin, and learned to write 
good prose, and even verses "of some estimation, 

of the house of Cortes ; which he traces up, nothing doubting, to 
Names Cortes, king of Lombardy and Tuscany. Anales de Aragon 
(Zaragoza, 1630), pp. 621-625. — Also, Caro de Torres, Historia de las 
Ordenes militares (Madrid, 1629), fol. 103. 

4 De Rebus gestis, MS. — Las Casas, who knew the father, bears 
stronger testimony to his poverty than to his noble birth. " Un escu- 
dero," he says of him, " que yo conoci harto pobre y humilde, aunque 
cristiano, viejo / dizen que hidalgo." Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 
3, cap. 27. 

5 [His parents had cast lots to decide which of the apostles should 
be chosen as his patron saint. The lot fell upon Peter, which explains 
the especial devotion which Cortes professed, through his whole life, 
to that saint, to whose watchful care he attributed the improvement in 
his health. Alaman, Disertaciones historicas, torn. ii. p. 4,] 



considering" — as an old writer quaintly remarks — 
"Cortes as the author." 6 He now passed his days 
in the idle, unprofitable manner of one who, too 
wilful to be guided by others, proposes no object to 
himself. His buoyant spirits were continually break- 
ing out in troublesome frolics and capricious humors, 
quite at variance with the orderly habits of his father's 
household. He showed a particular inclination for the 
military profession, or rather for the life of adventure 
to which in those days it was sure to lead. And when, 
at the age of seventeen, he proposed to enroll himself 
under the banners of the Great Captain, his parents, 
probably thinking a life of hardship and hazard abroad 
preferable to one of idleness at home, made no objec- 

The youthful cavalier, however, hesitated whether 
to seek his fortunes under that victorious chief, or in 
the New World, where gold as well as glory was to be 
won, and where the very dangers had a mystery and 
romance in them inexpressibly fascinating to a youthful 
fancy. It was in this direction, accordingly, that the 
hot spirits of that day found a vent, especially from 
that part of the country where Cortes lived, the neigh- 
borhood of Seville and Cadiz, the focus of nautical 
enterprise. He decided on this latter course, and an 
opportunity offered in the splendid armament fitted 
out under Don Nicolas de Ovando, successor to Co- 

6 Argensola, Anales, p. 220. — Las Casas and Bernal Diaz both state 
that he was Bachelor of Laws at Salamanca. (Hist, de las Indias, 
MS., ubi supra. — Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 203.) The degree was 
given probably in later life, when the University might feel a pride in 
claiming him among her sons. 


2 33 

lumbus. An unlucky accident defeated the purpose 
of Cortes. 7 

As he was scaling a high wall, one night, which gave 
him access to the apartment of a lady with whom he 
was engaged in an intrigue, the stones gave way, and 
he was thrown down with much violence and buried 
under the ruins. A severe contusion, though attended 
with no other serious consequences, confined him to 
his bed till after the departure of the fleet. 8 

Two years longer he remained at home, profiting 
little, as it would seem, from the lesson he had received. 
At length he availed himself of another opportunity 
presented by the departure of a small squadron of ves- 
sels bound to the Indian islands. He was nineteen 
years of age when he bade adieu to his native shores 
in 1504, — the same year in which Spain lost the best 
and greatest in her long line of princes, Isabella the 

The vessel in which Cortes sailed was commanded 
by one Alonso Quintero. The fleet touched at the 
Canaries, as was common in the outward passage. 
While the other vessels were detained there taking in 
supplies, Quintero secretly stole out by night from the 
island, with the design of reaching Hispaniola and 
securing the market before the arrival of his com- 
panions. A furious storm which he encountered, how- 
ever, dismasted his ship, and he was obliged to return 
to port and refit. The convoy consented to wait for 

7 De Rebus gestis, MS. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 1. 

8 De Rebus gestis, MS. — Gomara, Ibid. — Argensola states the cause 
of his detention concisely enough : " Suspendid el v\a.]e.,porenamorado 
y por quartanario'' Anales, p. 621. 


their unworthy partner, and after a short detention 
they all sailed in company again. But the faithless 
Quintero, as they drew near the Islands, availed him- 
self once more of the darkness of the night, to leave 
the squadron with the same purpose as before. Un- 
luckily for him, he met with a succession of heavy 
gales and head-winds, which drove him from his course, 
and he wholly lost his reckoning. For many days the 
vessel was tossed about, and all on board were filled 
with apprehensions, and no little indignation against 
the author of their calamities. At length they were 
cheered one morning with the sight of a white dove, 
which, wearied by its flight, lighted on the topmast. 
The biographers of Cortes speak of it as a miracle. 9 
Fortunately it was no miracle, but a very natural occur- 
rence, showing incontestably that they were near land. 
In a short time, by taking the direction of the bird's 
flight, they reached the island of Hispaniola ; and, on 
coming into port, the worthy master had the satis- 
faction to find his companions arrived before him, and 
their cargoes already sold. 10 

Immediately on landing, Cortes repaired to the 
house of the governor, to whom he had been personally 
known in Spain. Ovando was absent on an expedition 
into the interior, but the young man was kindly received 
by the secretary, who assured him there would be no 

9 Some thought it was the Holy Ghost in the form of this dove: 
" Sanctum esse Spiritum, qui, in illius alitis specie, ut moestos et afflictos 
solaretur, venire erat dignatus " (De Rebus gestis, MS.) ; a conjecture 
which seems very reasonable to Pizarro y Orellana, since the expedi- 
tion was to " redound so much to the spread of the Catholic faith, 
and the Castilian monarchy" ! Varones ilustres, p. 70. 

10 Gomara, Cronica, cap. 2. 


doubt of his obtaining a liberal grant of land to settle 
on. "But I came to get gold," replied Cortes, "not 
to till the soil, like a peasant." 

On the governor's return, Cortes consented to give 
up his roving thoughts, at least for a time, as the other 
labored to convince him that he would be more likely 
to realize his wishes from the slow, indeed, but sure, 
returns of husbandry, where the soil and the laborers 
were a free gift to the planter, than by taking his 
chance in the lottery of adventure, in which there 
were so many blanks to a prize. He accordingly re- 
ceived a grant of land, with a repartimiento of Indians, 
and was appointed notary of the town or settlement 
of Acua. His graver pursuits, however, did not pre- 
vent his indulgence of the amorous propensities which 
belong to the sunny clime where he was born ; and 
this frequently involved him in affairs of honor, from 
which, though an expert swordsman, he carried away 
scars that accompanied him to his grave. 11 He occa- 
sionally, moreover, found the means of breaking up 
the monotony of his way of life by engaging in the 
military expeditions which, under the command of 
Ovando's lieutenant, Diego Velasquez, were employed 
to suppress the insurrections of the natives. In this 
school the young adventurer first studied the wild 
tactics of Indian warfare ; he became familiar with 
toil and danger, and with those deeds of cruelty which 
have too often, alas ! stained the bright scutcheons 
of the Castilian chivalry in the New World. He was 
only prevented by illness — a most fortunate one, on this 
occasion — from embarking in Nicuessa's expedition, 

11 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 203. 


which furnished a tale of woe not often matched in 
the annals of Spanish discovery. Providence reserved 
him for higher ends. 

At length, in 15 11, when Velasquez undertook the 
conquest of Cuba, Cortds willingly abandoned his 
quiet life for the stirring scenes there opened, and took 
part in the expedition. He displayed, throughout the 
invasion, an activity and courage that won him the 
approbation of the commander ; while his free and 
cordial manners, his good humor and lively sallies of 
wit, made him the favorite of the soldiers. " He gave 
little evidence," says a contemporary, "of the great 
qualities which he afterwards showed. " It is probable 
these qualities were not known to himself; while to a 
common observer his careless manners and jocund 
repartees might well seem incompatible with anything 
serious or profound ; as the real depth of the current 
is not suspected under the light play and sunny spark- 
ling of the surface. 12 

After the reduction of the island, Cortes seems to 
have been held in great favor by Velasquez, now ap- 
pointed its governor. According to Las Casas, he was 
made one of his secretaries. 13 He still retained the 
same fondness for gallantry, for which his handsome 
person afforded obvious advantages, but which had 
more than once brought him into trouble in earlier life. 
Among the families who had taken up their residence 

12 De Rebus gestis, MS. — Gomara, Cr6nica, cap. 3, 4. — Las Casas, 
Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 27. 

'3 Hist, de las Indias, MS., loc. cit. — " Res omnes arduas diffici- 
losque per Cortesium, quern in dies magis magisque amplectebatur, 
Velasquius agit. Ex eo ducis favore et gratia magna Cortesio invidia 
est orta." De Rebus gestis, MS. 


in Cuba was one of the name of Xuarez, from Granada 
in Old Spain. It consisted of a brother, and four 
sisters remarkable for their beauty. With one of them, 
named Catalina, the susceptible heart of the young 
soldier became enamored. 14 How far the intimacy was 
carried is not quite certain. But it appears he gave 
his promise to marry her, — a promise which, when the 
time came, and reason, it may be, had got the better 
of passion, he showed no alacrity in keeping. He 
resisted, indeed, all remonstrances to this effect, from 
the lady's family, backed by the governor, and some- 
what sharpened, no doubt, in the latter by the par- 
ticular interest he took in one of the fair sisters, who 
is said not to have repaid it with ingratitude. 

Whether the rebuke of Velasquez or some other 
cause of disgust rankled in the breast of Cortes, he 
now became cold towards his patron, and connected 
himself with a disaffected party tolerably numerous in 
the island. They were in the habit of meeting at his 
house and brooding over their causes of discontent, 
chiefly founded, it would appear, on what they con- 
ceived an ill requital of their services in the distribu- 
tion of lands and offices. It may well be imagined 
that it could have been no easy task for the ruler of 
one of these colonies, however discreet and well in- 
tentioned, to satisfy the indefinite cravings of specu- 
lators and adventurers, who swarmed, like so many 

M Sob's has found a patent of nobility for this lady also, — " doncella 
noble y recatada." (Historia de la Conquista de Mejico (Paris, 1S38), 
lib. 1, cap. 9.) Las Casas treats her with less ceremony: " Una her- 
mana de un Juan Xuarez, gente pobre," Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 
3, cap. 17. 


famished harpies, in the track of discovery in the New 
World. 1 * 

The malecontents determined to lay their grievances 
before the higher authorities in Hispaniola, from whom 
Velasquez had received his commission. The voyage 
was one of some hazard, as it was to be made in an 
open boat, across an arm of the sea eighteen leagues 
wide ; and they fixed on Cortes, with whose fearless 
spirit they were well acquainted, as the fittest man to 
undertake it. The conspiracy got wind, and came to 
the governor's ears before the departure of the envoy, 
whom he instantly caused to be seized, loaded with 
fetters, and placed in strict confinement. It is even 
said he would have hung him, but for the interposition 
of his friends. 16 The fact is not incredible. The 
governors of these little territories, having entire con- 
trol over the fortunes of their subjects, enjoyed an 
authority far more despotic than that of the sovereign 
himself. They were generally men of rank and per- 
sonal consideration ; their distance from the mother- 
country withdrew their conduct from searching scrutiny, 
and, when that did occur, they usually had interest and 
means of corruption at command sufficient to shield 
them from punishment. The Spanish colonial history, 
in its earlier stages, affords striking instances of the 
extraordinary assumption and abuse of powers by these 
petty potentates ; and the sad fate of Vasquez Nunez 
de Balboa, the illustrious discoverer of the Pacific, 

J S Gomara, Cronica, cap. 4. — Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., 
ubi supra. — De Rebus gestis, MS. — Memorial de Benito Martinez, 
Capellan de D. Velasquez, contra H. Cortes, MS. 

16 Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., ubi supra. 


though the most signal, is by no means a solitary ex- 
ample, that the greatest services could be requited by 
persecution and an ignominious death. 

The governor of Cuba, however, although irascible 
and suspicious in his nature, does not seem to have 
been vindictive, nor particularly cruel. In the present 
instance, indeed, it may well be doubted whether the 
blame would not be more reasonably charged on the 
unfounded expectations of his followers than on him- 

Cortes did not long remain in durance. He con- 
trived to throw back one of the bolts of his fetters, and, 
after extricating his limbs, succeeded in forcing open a 
window with the irons so as to admit of his escape. He 
was lodged on the second floor of the building, and 
was able to let himself down to the pavement without 
injury, and unobserved. He then made the best of 
his way to a neighboring church, where he claimed the 
privilege of sanctuary. 

Velasquez, though incensed at his escape, was afraid 
to violate the sanctity of the place by employing force. 
But he stationed a guard in the neighborhood, with 
orders to seize the fugitive if he should forget himself 
so far as to leave the sanctuary. In a few days this 
happened. As Cortes was carelessly standing without 
the walls in front of the building, an alguacil suddenly 
sprang on him from behind and pinioned his arms, 
while others rushed in and secured him. This man, 
whose name was Juan Escudero, was afterwards hung 
by Cortes for some offence in New Spain. 17 

x 7 Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS.,loc. cit. — Memorial de Mar- 
tinez, MS. 



The unlucky prisoner was again put in irons, and 
carried on board a vessel to sail the next morning for 
Hispaniola, there to undergo his trial. Fortune favored 
him once more. He succeeded, after much difficulty 
and no little pain, in passing his feet through the rings 
which shackled them. He then came cautiously on 
deck, and, covered by the darkness of the night, stole 
quietly down the side of the ship into a boat that lay 
floating below. He pushed off from the vessel with as 
little noise as possible. As he drew near the shore, 
the stream became rapid and turbulent. He hesitated 
to trust his boat to it, and, as he was an excellent 
swimmer, prepared to breast it himself, and boldly 
plunged into the water. The current was strong, but 
the arm of a man struggling for life was stronger ; and, 
after buffeting the waves till he was nearly exhausted, 
he succeeded in gaining a landing ; when he sought 
refuge in the same sanctuary which had protected him 
before. The facility with which Cortes a second time 
effected his escape may lead one to doubt the fidelity 
of his guards ; who perhaps looked on him as the 
victim of persecution, and felt the influence of those 
popular manners which seem to have gained him friends 
in every society into which he was thrown. 18 

For some reason not explained, — perhaps from policy, 
— he now relinquished his objections to the marriage 
with Catalina Xuarez. He thus secured the good 
offices of her family. Soon afterwards the governor 
himself relented, and became reconciled to his un- 

18 Gomara, Cronica, cap. 4. — Herrera tells a silly story of his being 
unable to swim, and throwing himself on a plank, which, after being 
carried out to sea, was washed ashore with him at flood tide. Hist, 
general, dec. i, lib. 9, cap. 8. 


fortunate enemy. A strange story is told in connec- 
tion with this event. It is said his proud spirit refused 
to accept the proffers of reconciliation made him by 
Velasquez ; and that one evening, leaving the sanctu- 
ary, he presented himself unexpectedly before the latter 
in his own quarters, when on a military excursion at 
some distance from the capital. The governor, startled 
by the sudden apparition of his enemy completely armed 
before him, with some dismay inquired the meaning of 
it. Cortes answered by insisting on a full explanation 
of his previous conduct. After some hot discussion 
the interview terminated amicably; the parties em- 
braced, and, when a messenger arrived to announce 
the escape of Cortes, he found him in the apartments 
of his Excellency, where, having retired to rest, both 
were actually sleeping in the same bed ! The anecdote 
is repeated without distrust by more than one biogra- 
pher of Cortes. 19 It is not very probable, however, 
that a haughty, irascible man like Velasquez should 
have given such uncommon proofs of condescension 
and familiarity to one, so far beneath him in station, 
with whom he had been so recently in deadly feud ; 
nor, on the other hand, that Cortes should have had 
the silly temerity to brave the lion in his den, where a 
single nod would have sent him to the gibbet, — and 
that, too, with as little compunction or fear of conse- 
quences as would have attended the execution of an 
Indian slave. 20 

J 9 Gomara, Cronica, cap. 4. — " Coenat cubatque Cortesius cum 
Velasquio eodem in lecto. Qui postero die fugas Cortesii nuntius 
venerat, Velasquium et Cortesium juxta accubantes intuitus, miratur." 
De Rebus gestis, MS. 

20 Las Casas, who remembered Cortes at this time "so poor and 
VOL. I. — L 21 


The reconciliation with the governor, however 
brought about, was permanent. Cortes, though not 
re-established in the office of secretary, received a lib- 
eral repartimiento of Indians, and an ample territory in 
the neighborhood of St. Jago, of which he was soon 
after made alcalde. He now lived almost wholly on his 
estate, devoting himself to agriculture with more zeal 
than formerly. He stocked his plantation with differ- 
ent kinds of cattle, some of which were first introduced 
by him into Cuba. 21 He wrought, also, the gold-mines 
which fell to his share, and which in this island promised 
better returns than those in Hispaniola. By this course 
of industry he found himself, in a few years, master of 
some two or three thousand castellanos, a large sum for 
one in his situation. " God, who alone knows at what 
cost of Indian lives it was obtained," exclaims Las 
Casas, "will take account of it !" 22 His days glided 
smoothly away in these tranquil pursuits, and in the 
society of his beautiful wife, who, however ineligible 
as a connection, from the inferiority of her condition, 
appears to have fulfilled all the relations of a faithful 
and affectionate partner. Indeed, he was often heard 
to say at this time, as the good bishop above quoted 

lowly that he would have gladly received any favor from the least of 
Velasquez" attendants," treats the story of the bravado with contempt. 
" Por lo qual si el [Velasquez] sintiera de Cortes unapuncta de alfiler 
de cerviguillo 6 presuncion, 6 lo ahorcara 6 a lo menos lo echara de 
la tierra y lo sumiera en ella sin que alzara cabeza en su vida." Hist, 
de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 27. 

21 " Pecuariam primus quoque habuit, in insulamque induxit, omni 
pecorum genere ex Hispania petito." De Rebus gestis, MS. 

22 " Los que por sacarle el oro murieron Dios abrd tenido mejor 
cuenta que yo." Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 27. The text 
is a free translation. 



remarks, " that he lived as 'happily with her as if she 
had been the daughter of a duchess." Fortune gave 
him the means in after-life of verifying the truth of his 
assertion. 33 

Such was the state of things, when Alvarado re- 
turned with the tidings of Grijalva's discoveries and 
the rich fruits of his traffic with the natives. The 
news spread like wildfire throughout the island ; for all 
saw in it the promise of more important results than 
any hitherto obtained. The governor, as already 
noticed, resolved to follow up the track of discovery 
with a more considerable armament ; and he looked 
around for a proper person to share the expense of it 
and to take the command. 

Several hidalgos presented themselves, whom, from 
want of proper qualifications, or from his distrust of 
their assuming an independence of their employer, he, 
one after another, rejected. There were two persons 
in St. Jago in whom he placed great confidence, — 
Amador de Lares, the contador, or royal treasurer, 24 
and his own secretary, Andres de Duero. Cortes was 
also in close intimacy with both these persons ; and he 
availed himself of it to prevail on them to recommend 
him as a suitable person to be intrusted with the ex- 
pedition. It is said he reinforced the proposal by 

=3 " Estando conmigo, me lo dixo que estava tan contento con ella 
corao si fuera hija de una Duquessa." Hist, de las Indias, MS., ubi 
supra. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 4. 

2, » The treasurer used to boast he had passed some two-and-twenty 
years in the wars of Italy. He was a shrewd personage, and Las 
Casas, thinking that country a slippery school for morals, warned the 
governor, he says, more than once "to beware of the twenty-two 
years in Italy." Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 113. 



promising a liberal share of the proceeds of it. How- 
ever this may be, the parties urged his selection by the 
governor with all the eloquence of which they were 
capable. That officer had had ample experience of the 
capacity and courage of the candidate. He knew, too, 
that he had acquired a fortune which would enable him 
to co-operate materially in fitting out the armament. 
His popularity in the island would speedily attract 
followers to his standard. 23 All past animosities had 
long since been buried in oblivion, and the confidence 
he was now to repose in him would insure his fidelity 
and gratitude. He lent a willing ear, therefore, to the 
recommendation of his counsellors, and, sending for 
Cortes, announced his purpose of making him Captain- 
General of the Armada. 26 

Cortes had now attained the object of his wishes, — 
the object for which his soul had panted ever since he 
had set foot in the New World. He was no longer to 
be condemned to a life of mercenary drudgery, nor to 
be cooped up within the precincts of a petty island ; 
but he was to be placed on a new and independent 
theatre of action, and a boundless prospective was 
opened to his view, which might satisfy not merely the 
wildest cravings of avarice, but, to a bold, aspiring 
spirit like his, the far more importunate cravings of 
ambition. He fully appreciated the importance of the 
late discoveries, and read in them the existence of the 

2 5 "Si el no fuera por Capitan, que no fuera la tercera parte de la 
gente que con el fue." Declaracion cle Puertocarrero, MS. (Coruna, 
30 de Abril, 1520). 

86 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 19. — De Rebus gestis, 
MS. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 7. — Las Casas, Hist, general de las 
Indias. MS., lib. 3, cap. 113. 



great empire in the far West, dark hints of which had 
floated, from time to time, to the Islands, and of which 
more certain glimpses had been caught by those who 
had reached the continent. This was the country in- 
timated to the " Great Admiral" in his visit to Hon- 
duras in 1502, and which he might have reached had 
he held on a northern course, instead of striking to 
the south in quest of an imaginary strait. As it was, 
"he had but opened the gate," to use his own bitter 
expression, "for others to enter." The time had at 
length come when they were to enter it ; and the 
young adventurer, whose magic lance was to' dissolve 
the spell which had so long hung over these mysterious 
regions, now stood ready to assume the enterprise. 

From this hour the deportment of Cortes seemed to 
undergo a change. His thoughts, instead of evaporat- 
ing in empty levities or idle flashes of merriment, were 
wholly concentrated on the great object to which he 
was devoted. His elastic spirits were shown in cheer- 
ing and stimulating the companions of his toilsome 
duties, and he was roused to a generous enthusiasm, of 
which even those who knew him best had not con- 
ceived him capable. He applied at once all the money 
in his possession to fitting out the armament. He 
raised more by the mortgage of his estates, and by 
giving his obligations to some wealthy merchants of 
the place, who relied for their reimbursement on the 
success of the expedition ; and, when his own credit 
was exhausted, he availed himself of that of his 

The funds thus acquired he expended in the pur- 
chase of vessels, provisions, and military stores, while 


he invited recruits by offers of assistance to such as 
were too poor to provide for themselves, and by the 
additional promise of a liberal share of the anticipated 
profits. 27 

All was now bustle and excitement in the little town 
of St. Jago. Some were busy in refitting the vessels 
and getting them ready for the voyage ; some in pro- 
viding naval stores ; others in converting their own 
estates into money in order to equip themselves ; 
every one seemed anxious to contribute in some way 
or other to the success of the expedition. Six ships, 
some of them of a large size, had already been pro- 
cured ; and three hundred recruits enrolled themselves 
in the course of a few days, eager to seek their 
fortunes under the banner of this daring and popular 

How far the governor contributed towards the ex- 
penses of the outfit is not very clear. If the friends of 
Cortes are to be believed, nearly the whole burden fell 
on him ; since, while he supplied the squadron without 
remuneration, the governor sold many of his own 
stores at an exorbitant profit. 28 Yet it does not seem 

*i Declaracion de Puertocarrero, MS. — Carta de Vera Cruz, MS. — 
Probanza en la Villa Segura, MS. (4 de Oct., 1520). 

28 The letter from the Municipality of Vera Cruz, after stating that 
Velasquez bore only one-third of the original expense, adds, " Y sepan 
Vras. Magestades que la mayor parte de la dicha tercia parte que el 
dicho Diego Velasquez gast6 en hacer la dicha armada fue emplear 
sus dineros en vinos y en ropas, y en otras cosas de poco valor para 
nos lo vender ac£ en mucha mas cantidad de lo que a el le costo, por 
manera que podemos decir que entre nosotros los Espanoles vasallos 
de Vras. Reales Altezas ha hecho Diego Velasquez su rescate y 
granosea de sus dineros cobrandolos muy bien." (Carta de Vera 
Cruz, MS.) Puertocarrero and Montejo, also, in their depositions 



probable that Velasquez, with such ample means at his 
command, should have thrown on his deputy the burden 
of the expedition, nor that the latter — had he done 
so — could have been in a condition to meet these ex- 
penses, amounting, as we are told, to more than twenty 
thousand gold ducats. Still it cannot be denied that 
an ambitious man like Cortes, who was to reap all the 
glory of the enterprise, would very naturally be less 
solicitous to count the gains of it, than his employer, 
who, inactive at home, and having no laurels to win, 
must look on the pecuniary profits as his only recom- 
pense. The question gave rise, some years later, to a 
furious litigation between the parties, with which it is 
not necessary at present to embarrass the reader. 

It is due to Velasquez to state that the instructions 
delivered by him for the conduct of the expedition 
cannot be charged with a narrow or mercenary spirit. 
The first object of the voyage was to find Grijalva, after 
which the two commanders were to proceed in com- 
pany together. Reports had been brought back by 
Cordova, on his return from the first visit to Yucatan, 
that six Christians were said to be lingering in cap- 
tivity in the interior of the country. It was supposed 
they might belong to the party of the unfortunate Nicu- 
essa, and orders were given to find them out, if possi- 
ble, and restore them to liberty. But the great object of 
the expedition was barter with the natives. In pursuing 

taken in Spain, both speak of Cortes' having furnished two-thirds of 
the cost of the flotilla. (Declaracion de Puertocarrero, MS. — Decla- 
racion de Montejo, MS. (29 de Abril, 1520.).) The letter from Vera 
Cruz, however, was prepared under the eye of Cortes ; and the last 
two were his confidential officers. 


this, special care was to be taken that they should 
receive no wrong, but be treated with kindness and 
humanity. Cortes was to bear in mind, above all 
things, that the object which the Spanish monarch had 
most at heart was the conversion of the Indians. He 
was to impress on them the grandeur and goodness of 
his royal master, to invite them "to give in their 
allegiance to him, and to manifest it by regaling him 
with such comfortable presents of gold, pearls, and pre- 
cious stones as, by showing their own good will, would 
secure his favor and protection." He was to make an 
accurate survey of the coast, sounding its bays and 
inlets for the benefit of future navigators. He was to 
acquaint himself with the natural products of the 
country, with the character of its different races, their 
institutions and progress in civilization ; and he was to 
send home minute accounts of all these, together with 
such articles as he should obtain in his intercourse with 
them. Finally, he was to take the most careful care to 
omit nothing that might redound to the service of God 
or his sovereign. 29 

Such was the general tenor of the instructions given 
to Cortes; and they must be admitted to provide for 
the interests of science and humanity, as well as for 
those which had reference only to a commercial specu- 
lation. It may seem strange, considering the discon- 
tent shown by Velasquez with his former captain, 
Grijalva, for not colonizing, that no directions should 

*9 The instrument, in the original Castilian, will be found in Appen- 
dix, Part 2, No. 5. It is often referred to by writers who never saw 
it, as the Agreement between Cortes and Velasquez. It is, in fact, 
only the instructions given by this latter to his officer, who was no 
party to it. 



have been given to that effect here. But he had not 
yet received from Spain the warrant for investing his 
agents with such powers ; and. that which had been 
obtained from the Hieronymite fathers in Hispaniola 
conceded only the right to traffic with the natives. 
The commission at the same time recognized the 
authority of Cortes as Captain-General of the expe- 
dition. 30 

3° Declaracion de Puertocarrero, MS. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 7. — 
Velasquez soon after obtained from the crown authority to colonize 
the new countries, with the title of adelantado over them. The in- 
strument was dated at Barcelona, Nov. 13th, 15 18. (Herrera, Hist, 
general, dec. 2, lib. 3, cap. 8.) Empty privileges ! Las Casas gives a 
caustic etymology of the title of adelantado, so often granted to the 
Spanish discoverers. " Adelantados porque se adelantaran en hazer 
males y danos tan gravfsimos i. gentes pacificas." Hist, de las Indias, 
MS., lib. 3, cap. 117. 


Jealousy of velasquez. — cortes embarks. — equip- 




The importance given to Cortes by his new position, 
and, perhaps, a somewhat more lofty bearing, gradually 
gave uneasiness to the naturally suspicious temper of 
Velasquez, who became apprehensive that his officer, 
when away where he would have the power, might also 
have the inclination, to throw off his dependence on 
him altogether. An accidental circumstance at this 
time heightened these suspicions. A mad fellow, his 
jester, one of those crack-brained wits — half wit, half 
fool — who formed in those days a common appendage 
to every great man's establishment, called out to the 
governor, as he was taking his usual walk one morning 
with Cortes towards the port, "Have a care, master 
Velasquez, or we shall have to go a hunting, some day 
or other, after this same captain of ours !" " Do you 
hear what the rogue says?" exclaimed the governor to 
his companion. "Do not heed him," said Cortes: 
"he is a saucy knave, and deserves a good whip- 
ping." The words sank deep, however, in the mind 
of Velasquez, — as, indeed, true jests are apt to stick. 

There were not wanting persons about his Excel- 


lency who fanned the latent embers of jealousy into a 
blaze. These worthy gentlemen, some of them kins- 
men of Velasquez, who probably felt their own deserts 
somewhat thrown into the shade by the rising fortunes 
of Cortes, reminded the governor of his ancient quarrel 
with that officer, and of the little probability that 
affronts so keenly felt at the time could ever be for- 
gotten. By these and similar suggestions, and by mis- 
constructions of the present conduct of Cortes, they 
wrought on the passions of Velasquez to such a degree 
that he resolved to intrust the expedition to other 
hands. * 

He communicated his design to his confidential 
advisers, Lares and Duero, and these trusty personages 
reported it without delay to Cortes, although, "to a 
man of half his penetration," says Las Casas, " the 
thing would have been readily divined from the gov- 
ernor's altered demeanor." 2 The two functionaries 
advised their friend to expedite matters as much as 
possible, and to lose no time in getting his fleet ready 
for sea, if he would retain the command of it. Cortes 
showed the same prompt decision on this occasion 
which more than once afterwards in a similar crisis 
gave the direction to his destiny. 

1 " Deterrebat," says the anonymous biographer, " eum Cortesii 
natura imperii avida, fiducia sui ingens, et nimius sumptus in classe 
paranda. Timere itaque Velasquius coepit, si Cortesius cum ea. classe 
iret, nihil ad se vel honoris vel lucri rediturum." De Rebus gestis, 
MS. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 19. — Las Casas, Hist, 
de las Indias, MS., cap. 114. 

* " Cortes no avia menester mas para entendello de mirar el gesto 
& Diego Velasquez segun su astuta viveza y mundana sabidurfa." 
Hist, de las Indias, MS., cap. 114. 



He had not yet got his complement of men, nor of 
vessels, and was very inadequately provided with sup- 
plies of any kind. But he resolved to weigh anchor 
that very night. He waited on his officers, informed 
them of his purpose, and probably of the cause of it; 
and at midnight, when the town was hushed in sleep, 
they all went quietly on board, and the little squadron 
dropped down the bay. First, however, Cortes had 
visited the person whose business it was to supply the 
place with meat, and relieved him of all his stock on 
hand, notwithstanding his complaint that the city must 
suffer for it on the morrow, leaving him, at the same 
time, in payment, a massive gold chain of much value, 
which he wore round his neck. 3 

Great was the amazement of the good citizens of 
St. Jago when, at dawn, they saw that the fleet, which 
they knew was so ill prepared for the voyage, had left 
its moorings and was busily getting under way. The 
tidings soon came to the ears of his Excellency, who, 
springing from his bed, hastily dressed himself, mounted 
his horse, and, followed by his retinue, galloped down 
to the quay. Cortes, as soon as he descried their 
approach, entered an armed boat, and came within 
speaking-distance of the shore. "And is it thus you 
part from me?" exclaimed Velasquez; "a courteous 
way of taking leave, truly !" " Pardon me," answered 
Cortes ; " time presses, and there are some things that 
should be done before they are even thought of. Has 
your Excellency any commands?" But the mortified 

3 Las Casas had the story from Cortes' own mouth. Hist, de 
las Indias, MS., cap. 114.— Gomara, Cronica, cap. 7. — De Rebus 
gestis, MS. 


governor had no commands to give ; and Cortes, po- 
litely waving his hand, returned to his vessel, and the 
little fleet instantly made sail for the port of Macaca, 
about fifteen leagues distant. (November 18, 15 18.) 
Velasquez rode back to his house to digest his chagrin 
as he best might ; satisfied, probably, that he had made 
at least two blunders, — one in appointing Cortes to the 
command, the other in attempting to deprive him of 
it. For, if it be true that by giving our confidence 
by halves we can scarcely hope to make a friend, it is 
equally true that by withdrawing it when given we 
shall make an enemy. 4 

This clandestine departure of Cortes has been se- 
verely criticised by some writers, especially by Las 
Casas. 5 Yet much may be urged in vindication of his 
conduct. He had been appointed to the command by 
the voluntary act of the governor, and this had been 
fully ratified by the authorities of Hispaniola. He had 
at once devoted all his resources to the undertaking, 
incurring, indeed, a heavy debt in addition. He was 
now to be deprived of his commission, without any 
misconduct having been alleged or at least proved 

4 Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., cap. 114. — Herrera, Hist, 
general, dec. 2, lib. 3, cap. 12. — Solis, who follows Bernal Diaz in 
saying that Cortes parted openly and amicably from Velasquez, seems 
to consider it a great slander on the character of the former to sup- 
pose that he wanted to break with the governor so soon, when he had 
received so little provocation. (Conquista, lib. 1, cap. 10.) But it is 
not necessary to suppose that Cortes intended a rupture with his em- 
ployer by this clandestine movement, but only to secure himself in the 
command. At all events, the text conforms in every particular to the 
statement of Las Casas, who, as he knew both the parties well, and 
resided on the island at the time, had ample means of information. 

5 Hist, de las Indias, MS., cap. 114. 

Vol. I. 22 


against him. Such an event must overwhelm him in 
irretrievable ruin, to say nothing of the friends from 
whom he had so largely borrowed, and the followers 
who had embarked their fortunes in the expedition on 
the faith of his commanding it. There are few per- 
sons, probably, who, under these circumstances, would 
have felt called tamely to acquiesce in the sacrifice of 
their hopes to a groundless and arbitrary whim. The 
most to have been expected from Cortes was that he 
should feel obliged to provide faithfully for the interests 
of his employer in the conduct of the enterprise. How 
far he felt the force of this obligation will appear in 
the sequel. 

From Macaca, where Cortes laid in such stores as he 
could obtain from the royal farms, and which, he said, 
he considered as "a loan from the king," he proceeded 
to Trinidad ; a more considerable town, on the southern 
coast of Cuba. Here he landed, and, erecting his 
standard in front of his quarters, made proclamation, 
with liberal offers to all who would join the expedition. 
Volunteers came in daily, and among them more than 
a hundred of Grijalva's men, just returned from their 
voyage and willing to follow up the discovery under 
an enterprising leader. The fame of Cortes attracted, 
also, a number of cavaliers of family and distinction, 
some of whom, having accompanied Grijalva, brought 
much information valuable for the present expedition. 
Among these hidalgos may be mentioned Pedro de 
Alvarado and his brothers, Cristoval de Olid, Alonso 
de Avila, Juan Velasquez de Leon, a near relation of 
the governor, Alonso Hernandez de Puertocarrero, and 
Gonzalo de Sandoval, — all of them men who took a 


most important part in the Conquest. Their presence 
was of great moment, as giving consideration to the 
enterprise ; and, when they entered the little camp of 
the adventurers, the latter turned out to welcome them 
amidst lively strains of music and joyous salvos of 

Cortes meanwhile was active in purchasing military 
stores and provisions. Learning that a trading-vessel 
laden with grain and other commodities for the mines 
was off the coast, he ordered out one of his caravels to 
seize her and bring her into port. He paid the master 
in bills for both cargo and ship, and even persuaded 
this man, named Sedeno, who was wealthy, to join his 
fortunes to the expedition. He also despatched one of 
his officers, Diego de Ordaz, in quest of another ship, 
of which he had tidings, with instructions to seize it in 
like manner, and to meet him with it off Cape St. An- 
tonio, the westerly point of the island. 6 By this he 
effected another object, that of getting rid of Ordaz, 
who was one of the governor's household, and an in- 
convenient spy on his own actions. 

While thus occupied, letters from Velasquez were re- 
ceived by the commander of Trinidad, requiring him 
to seize the person of Cortes and to detain him, as he 
had been deposed from the command of the fleet, 
which was given to another. This functionary com- 
municated his instructions to the principal officers in 

6 Las Casas had this, also, from the lips of Cortes in later life. 
" Todo esto me dixo el mismo Cortes, con otras cosas cerca dello 
despues de Marques ; . . . reindo y mofando e con estas formales 
palabras, A la mi fee andnbe por alii como un gentil cosario." Hist, 
de las Indias, MS., cap. 115. 


the expedition, who counselled him not to make the 
attempt, as it would undoubtedly lead to a commotion 
among the soldiers, that might end in laying the town 
in ashes. Verdugo thought it prudent to conform to 
this advice. 7 

As Cortes was willing to strengthen himself by still 
further reinforcements, he ordered Alvarado with a 
small body of men to march across the country to the 
Havana, while he himself would sail round the westerly 
point of the island and meet him there with the squad- 
ron. In this port he again displayed his standard, 
making the usual proclamation. He caused all the 
large guns to be brought on shore, and, with the small 
arms and cross-bows, to be put in order. As there was 
abundance of cotton raised in this neighborhood, he 
had the jackets of the soldiers thickly quilted with it, 
for a defence against the Indian arrows, from which 
the troops in the former expeditions had grievously 
suffered. He distributed his men into eleven com- 
panies, each under the command of an experienced 
officer ; and it was observed that, although several of 
the cavaliers in the service were the personal friends 
and even kinsmen of Velasquez, he appeared to treat 
them all with perfect confidence. 

His principal standard was of black velvet, em- 
broidered with gold, and emblazoned with a red cross 
amidst flames of blue and white, with this motto in 
Latin beneath: "Friends, let us follow the Cross; and 
under this sign, if we have faith, we shall conquer." 
He now assumed more state in his own person and way 

7 De Rebus gestis, MS. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 8. — Las Casas, 
Hist, de las Indias, MS., cap. 114, 115. 



of living, introducing a greater number of domestics 
and officers into his household, and placing it on a 
footing becoming a man of high station. This state 
he maintained through the rest of his life. 8 

Cortes at this time was thirty-three, or perhaps thirty- 
four, years of age. In stature he was rather above the 
middle size. His complexion was pale ; and his large 
dark eye gave an expression of gravity to his counte- 
nance, not to have been expected in one of his cheer- 
ful temperament. His figure was slender, at least until 
later life ; but his chest was deep, his shoulders broad, 
his frame muscular and well proportioned. It pre- 
sented the union of agility and vigor which qualified 
him to excel in fencing, horsemanship, and the other 
generous exercises of chivalry. In his diet he was 
temperate, careless of what he ate, and drinking little ; 
while to toil and privation he seemed perfectly indif- 
ferent. His dress, for he did not disdain the impres- 
sion produced by such adventitious aids, was such as 
to set off his handsome person to advantage ; neither 
gaudy nor striking, but rich. He wore few ornaments, 
and usually the same ; but those were of great price. 
His manners, frank and soldier-like, concealed a most 
cool and calculating spirit. With his gayest humor 
there mingled a settled air of resolution, which made 
those who approached him feel they must obey, and 
which infused something like awe into the attachment 
of his most devoted followers. Such a combination, 
in which love was tempered by authority, was the one 

8 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 24. — De Rebus gestis, 
MS. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 8. — Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., 
cap. 115. — The legend on the standard was, doubtless, suggested by 
that on the labarum, — the sacred banner of Constantine. 
2 2* 


probably best calculated to inspire devotion in the 
rough and turbulent spirits among whom his lot was to 
be cast. 

The character of Cortes seems to have undergone 
some change with change of circumstances ; or, to 
speak more correctly, the new scenes in which he was 
placed called forth qualities which before lay dormant 
in his bosom. There are some hardy natures that 
require the heats of excited action to unfold their 
energies ; like the plants which, closed to the mild 
influence of a temperate latitude, come to their full 
growth, and give forth their fruits, only in the burning 
atmosphere of the tropics. Such is the portrait left 
to us by his contemporaries of this remarkable man ; 
the instrument selected by Providence to scatter terror 
among the barbarian monarchs of the Western World, 
and lay their empires in the dust. 9 

Before the preparations were fully completed at the 
Havana, the commander of the place, Don Pedro Barba, 
received despatches from Velasquez ordering him to 
apprehend Cortes and to prevent the departure of his 
vessels ; while another epistle from the same source 
was delivered to Cortes himself, requesting him to 
postpone his voyage till the governor could communi- 
cate with him, as he proposed, in person. "Never," 
exclaims Las Casas, "did I see so little knowledge of 
affairs shown, as in this letter of Diego Velasquez, — 
that he should have imagined that a man who had so 

9 The most minute notices of the person and habits of Cortes are 
to be gathered from the narrative of the old cavalier Bernal Diaz, who 
served so long under him, and from Gomara, the general's chaplain. 
See in particular the last chapter of Gomara's Cronica, and cap. 203 
of the Hist, de la Conquista 


2 59 

recently put such an affront on him would defer his 
departure at his bidding !" 10 It was, indeed, hoping 
to stay the flight of the arrow by a word, after it had 
left the bow. 

The Captain - General, however, during his short 
stay, had entirely conciliated the good will of Barba. 
And, if that officer had had the inclination, he knew 
he had not the power, to enforce his principal's orders, 
in the face of a resolute soldiery, incensed at this 
ungenerous persecution of their commander, and "all 
of whom," in the words of the honest chronicler who 
bore part in the expedition, "officers and privates, 
would have cheerfully laid down their lives for him. ' ' " 
Barba contented himself, therefore, with explaining to 
Velasquez the impracticability of the attempt, and at 
the same time endeavored to tranquillize his apprehen- 
sions by asserting his own confidence in the fidelity of 
Cortes. To this the latter added a communication of 
his own, couched " in the soft terms he knew so well 
how to use," I2 in which he implored his Excellency to 
rely on his devotion to his interests, and concluded 
with the comfortable assurance that he and the whole 
fleet, God willing, would sail on the following morning. 

Accordingly, on the ioth of February, 15 19, the 
little squadron got under way, and directed its course 
towards Cape St. Antonio, the appointed place of ren- 
dezvous. When all were brought together, the vessels 
were found to be eleven in number ; one of them, in 
which Cortes himself went, was of a hundred tons' 

10 Las Casas ; Hist, de las Indias, MS., cap. 115. 

11 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 24. 
w Ibid., loc. cit. 


burden, three others were from seventy to eighty tons ; 
the remainder were caravels and open brigantines. 
The whole was put under the direction of Antonio de 
Alaminos, as chief pilot ; a veteran navigator, who had 
acted as pilot to Columbus in his last voyage, and to 
Cordova and Grijalva in the former expeditions to 

Landing on the Cape and mustering his forces, 
Cortes found they amounted to one hundred and ten 
mariners, five hundred and fifty-three soldiers, in- 
cluding thirty-two crossbowmen, and thirteen arque- 
busiers, besides two hundred Indians of the island, 
and a few Indian women for menial offices. He was 
provided with ten heavy guns, four lighter pieces called 
falconets, and with a good supply of ammunition. 13 
He had besides sixteen horses. They were not easily 
procured ; for the difficulty of transporting them across 
the ocean in the flimsy craft of that day made them 
rare and incredibly dear in the Islands. 14 But Cortes 

x 3 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 26. — There is some dis- 
crepancy among authorities in regard to the numbers of the army. 
The Letter from Vera Cruz, which should have been exact, speaks in 
round terms of only four hundred soldiers. (Carta de Vera Cruz, 
MS.) Velasquez himself, in a communication to the Chief Judge 
of Hispaniola, states the number at six hundred. (Carta de Diego 
Velasquez al Lie. Figueroa, MS.) I have adopted the estimates of 
Bernal Diaz, who, in his long service, seems to have become intimately 
acquainted with every one of his comrades, their persons, and private 

*4 Incredibly dear indeed, since, from the statements contained in 
the depositions at Villa Segura, it appears that the cost of the horses 
for the expedition was from four to five hundred/£.sw de oro each I " Si 
saben que de caballos que el dicho Senor Capitan General Hernando 
Cortes ha comprado para servir en la dicha Conquista, que son diez 6 
ocho, que le han costado & quatrocientos cinquenta & d quinientos 


rightfully estimated the importance of cavalry, however 
small in number, both for their actual service in the 
field, and for striking terror into the savages. With 
so paltry a force did he enter on a conquest which 
even his stout heart must have shrunk from attempting 
with such means, had he but foreseen half its real 
difficulties ! 

Before embarking, Cortes addressed his soldiers in a 
short but animated harangue. He told them they were 
about to enter on a noble enterprise, one that would 
make their name famous to after-ages. He was leading 
them to countries more vast and opulent than any yet 
visited by Europeans. "I hold out to you a glorious 
prize," continued the orator, " but it is to be won by 
incessant toil. Great things are achieved only by great 
exertions, and glory was never the reward of sloth. 13 
If I have labored hard and staked my all on this under- 
taking, it is for the love of that renown which is the 
noblest recompense of man. But, if any among you 
covet riches more, be but true to me, as I will be true 
to you and to the occasion, and I will make you masters 
of such as our countrymen have never dreamed of! 
You are few in number, but strong in resolution ; and, 

pesos ha pagado, £ que deve mas de ocho mil pesos de oro dellos." 
(Probanza en Villa Segura, MS.) The estimation of these horses is 
sufficiently shown by the minute information Bernal Diaz has thought 
proper to give of every one of them ; minute enough for the pages of 
a sporting calendar. See Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 23. 

*5 " Io vos propongo grandes premios, mas embueltos en grandes 
trabajos ; pero la virtud no quiere ociosidad." (Gomara, Cronica, cap. 
9.) It is the thought so finely expressed by Thomson : 

" For sluggard's brow the laurel never grows ; 
Renown is not the child of indolent repose." 


if this does not falter, doubt not but that the Almighty, 
who has never deserted the Spaniard in his contest 
with the infidel, will shield you, though encompassed 
by a cloud of enemies ; for your cause is a just cause, 
and you are to fight under the banner of the Cross. 
Go forward, then," he concluded, "with alacrity and 
confidence, and carry to a glorious issue the work so 
auspiciously begun." l6 

The rough eloquence of the general, touching the 
various chords of ambition, avarice, and religious zeal, 
sent a thrill through the bosoms of his martial audi- 
ence ; and, receiving it with acclamations, they seemed 
eager to press forward under a chief who was to lead 
them not so much to battle, as to triumph. 

Cortes was well satisfied to find his own enthusiasm 
so largely shared by his followers. Mass was then 
celebrated with the solemnities usual with the Spanish 
navigators when entering on their voyages of discovery. 
The fleet was placed under the immediate protection 
of St. Peter, the patron saint of Cortes, and, weighing 
anchor, took its departure on the eighteenth day of 
February, 15 19, for the coast of Yucatan. 17 

16 The text is a very condensed abridgment of the original speech 
of Cortes, — or of his chaplain, as the case may be. See it, in Gomara, 
Cronica, cap. 9. 

*7 Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., cap. 115. — Gomara, Cronica, 
cap. 10. — De Rebus gestis, MS. — " Tantus fuit armorum apparatus," 
exclaims the author of the last work, " quo alterum terrarum orbem 
bellis Cortesius concutit ; ex tarn parvis opibus tantum imperium 
Carolo facit ; aperitque omnium primus Hispanae genti Hispaniam 
novam !" The author of this work is unknown. It seems to have 
been part of a great compilation " De Orbe Novo," written, probably, 
on the plan of a series of biographical sketches, as the introduction 
speaks of a life of Columbus preceding this of Cortes. It was com- 


posed, as it states, while many of the old Conquerors were still sur- 
viving, and is addressed to the son of Cortes. The historian, therefore, 
had ample means of verifying the truth of his own statements, although 
they too often betray, in his partiality for his hero, the influence of the 
patronage under which the work was produced. It runs into a pro- 
lixity of detail which, however tedious, has its uses in a contemporary 
document. Unluckily, only the first book was finished, or, at least, 
has survived ; terminating with the events of this chapter. It is writ- 
ten in Latin, in a pure and perspicuous style, and is conjectured with 
some plausibility to be the work of Calvet de Estrella, Chronicler of 
the Indies. The original exists in the Archives of Simancas, where it 
was discovered and transcribed by Mufioz, from whose copy that in 
my library was taken. 







Orders were given for the vessels to keep as near 
together as possible, and to take the direction of the 
capitania, or admiral's ship, which carried a beacon- 
light in the stern during the night. But the weather, 
which had been favorable, changed soon after their 
departure, and one of those tempests set in which at 
this season are often found in the latitudes of the West 
Indies. It fell with terrible force on the little navy, 
scattering it far asunder, dismantling some of the 
ships, and driving them all considerably south of their 
proposed destination. 

Cortes, who had lingered behind to convoy a dis- 
abled vessel, reached the island of Cozumel last. On 
landing, he learned that one of his captains, Pedro 
de Alvarado, had availed himself of the short time he 
had been there, to enter the temples, rifle them of 
their few ornaments, and, by his violent conduct, so 
far to terrify the simple natives that they had fled for 
refuge into the interior of the island. Cortes, highly 
incensed at these rash proceedings, so contrary to the 
policy he had proposed, could not refrain from severely 
reprimanding his officer in the presence of the army. 


He commanded two Indian captives, taken by Alva- 
rado, to be brought before him, and explained to them 
the pacific purpose of his visit. This he did through 
the assistance of his interpreter, Melchorejo, a native 
of Yucatan, who had been brought back by Grijalva, 
and who during his residence in Cuba had picked up 
some acquaintance with the Castilian. He then dis- 
missed them loaded with presents, and with an invita- 
tion to their countrymen to return to their homes 
without fear of further annoyance. This humane 
policy succeeded. The fugitives, reassured, were not 
slow in coming back ; and an amicable intercourse 
was established, in which Spanish cutlery and trinkets 
were exchanged for the gold ornaments of the natives ; 
a traffic in which each party congratulated itself — a 
philosopher might think with equal reason — on out- 
witting the other. 

The first object of Cortes was to gather tidings of 
the unfortunate Christians who were reported to be 
still lingering in captivity on the neighboring conti- 
nent. From some traders in the island he obtained 
such a confirmation of the report that he sent Diego 
de Ordaz with two brigantines to the opposite coast of 
Yucatan, with instructions to remain there eight days. 
Some Indians went as messengers in the vessels, who 
consented to bear a letter to the captives informing 
them of the arrival of their countrymen in Cozumel 
with a liberal ransom for their release. Meanwhile 
the general proposed to make an excursion to the 
different parts of the island, that he might give em- 
ployment to the restless spirits of the soldiers, and 
ascertain the resources of the country. 
Vol. I. — m 23 


It was poor and thinly peopled. But everywhere he 
recognized the vestiges of a higher civilization than 
what he had before witnessed in the Indian islands. 
The houses were some of them large, and often built 
of stone and lime. He was particularly struck with the 
temples, in which were towers constructed of the same 
solid materials, and rising several stories in height. In 
the court of one of these he was amazed by the sight of 
a cross, of stone and lime, about ten palms high. It 
was the emblem of the god of rain. Its appearance 
suggested the wildest conjectures, not merely to the 
unlettered soldiers, but subsequently to the European 
scholar, who speculated on the character of the races 
that had introduced there the sacred symbol of Chris- 
tianity. But no such inference, as we shall see here- 
after, could be warranted. 1 Yet it must be regarded 
as a curious fact that the Cross should have been ven- 
erated as the object of religious worship both in the 
New World and in regions of the Old where the light 
of Christianity had never risen. 2 

1 See Appendix, Part i, Note 27. 

a Carta de Vera Cruz, MS. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, 
cap. 25, et seq. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 10, 15. — Las Casas, Hist, de 
las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 115. — Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 
4, cap. 6. — Martyr, de Insulis nuper inventis (Colonise, 1574), p. 344. 
— While these pages were passing through the press, but not till two 
years after they were written, Mr. Stephens's important and interest- 
ing volumes appeared, containing the account of his second expedi- 
tion to Yucatan. In the latter part of the work he describes his visit 
to Cozumel, now an uninhabited island covered with impenetrable 
forests. Near the shore he saw the remains of ancient Indian struc- 
tures, which he conceives may possibly have been the same that met 
the eyes of Grijalva and Cortes, and which suggest to him some im- 
portant inferences. He is led into further reflections on the existence 


The next object of Cortes was to reclaim the natives 
from their gross idolatry and to substitute a purer form 
of worship. In accomplishing this he was prepared 
to use force, if milder measures should be ineffectual. 
There was nothing which the Spanish government had 
more earnestly at heart than the conversion of the 
Indians. It forms the constant burden of their in- 
structions, and gave to the military expeditions in this 
western hemisphere somewhat of the air of a crusade. 
The cavalier who embarked in them entered fully into 
these chivalrous and devotional feelings. No doubt 
was entertained of the efficacy of conversion, however 
sudden might be the change or however violent the 
means. The sword was a good argument, when the 
tongue failed ; and the spread of Mahometanism had 
shown that seeds sown by the hand of violence, far 
from perishing in the ground, would spring up and 
bear fruit to after -time. If this were so in a bad cause, 
how much more would it be true in a good one ! The 

of the cross as a symbol of worship among the islanders. (Incidents 
of Travel in Yucatan (New York, 1843), vol. ii. chap. 20.) As the 
discussion of these matters would lead me too far from the track of 
our narrative, I shall take occasion to return to them hereafter, when 
I treat of the architectural remains of the country.* 

* [In the passages here referred to, the author has noticed various 
proofs of the existence of the cross as a symbol of worship among 
pagan nations both in the Old World and the New. The fact has 
been deemed a very puzzling one ; yet the explanation, as traced by 
Dr. Brinton, is sufficiently simple : " The arms of the cross were 
designed to point to the cardinal points and represent the four winds, 
— the rain-bringers." Hence the name given to it in the Mexican 
language, signifying "Tree of our Life,'' — a term well calculated to 
increase the wonderment of the Spanish discoverers. Myths of the 
New World, p. 96, et al, — Ed.] 


Spanish cavalier felt he had a high mission to accom- 
plish as a soldier of the Cross. However unauthorized 
or unrighteous the war into which he had entered may 
seem to us, to him it was a holy war. He was in arms 
against the infidel. Not to care for the soul of his 
benighted enemy was to put his own in jeopardy. The 
conversion of a single soul might cover a multitude of 
sins. It was not for morals that he was concerned, but 
for the faith. This, though understood in its most 
literal and limited sense, comprehended the whole 
scheme of Christian morality. Whoever died in the 
faith, however immoral had been his life, might be 
said to die in the Lord. Such was the creed of the 
Castilian knight of that day, as imbibed from the 
preachings of the pulpit, from cloisters and colleges at 
home, from monks and missionaries abroad, — from all 
save one, whose devotion, kindled at a purer source, 
was not, alas ! permitted to send forth its radiance far 
into the thick gloom by which he was encompassed. 3 

No one partook more fully of the feelings above 
described than Hernan Cortes. He was, in truth, the 
very mirror of the time in which he lived, reflecting 
its motley characteristics, its speculative devotion and 
practical license, but with an intensity all his own. 
He was greatly scandalized at the exhibition of the 
idolatrous practices of the people of Cozumel, though 
untainted, as it would seem, with human sacrifices. 
He endeavored to persuade them to embrace a better 
faith, through the agency of two ecclesiastics who 

3 See the biographical sketch of the good bishop Las Casas, the 
" Protector of the Indians," in the Postscript at the close of the present 



attended the expedition, — the licentiate Juan Diaz and 
Father Bartolome de Olmedo. The latter of these 
godly men afforded the rare example — rare in any age 
— of the union of fervent zeal with charity, while he 
beautifully illustrated in his own conduct the precepts 
which he taught. He remained with the army through 
the whole expedition, and by his wise and benevolent 
counsels was often enabled to mitigate the cruelties of 
the Conquerors, and to turn aside the edge of the 
sword from the unfortunate natives. 

These two missionaries vainly labored to persuade 
the people of Cozumel to renounce their abominations, 
and to allow the Indian idols, in which the Christians 
recognized the true lineaments of Satan, 4 to be thrown 
down and demolished. The simple natives, filled with 
horror at the proposed profanation, exclaimed that 
these were the gods who sent them the sunshine and 
the storm, and, should any violence be offered, they 
would be sure to avenge it by sending their lightnings 
on the heads of its perpetrators. 

Cortes was probably not much of a polemic. At all 
events, he preferred on the present occasion action to 
argument, and thought that the best way to convince 
the Indians of their error was to prove the falsehood 
of the prediction. He accordingly, without further 
ceremony, caused the venerated images to be rolled 
down the stairs of the great temple, amidst the groans 
and lamentations of the natives. An altar was hastily 

4 " It may have been that the devil appeared to them as he is, and 
left these forms stamped on their imagination, so that the imitative 
power of the artist reveals itself in the ugliness of the image." Solis, 
Conquista, p. 39. 




constructed, an image of the Virgin and Child placed 
over it, and mass was performed by Father Olmedo 
and his reverend companion for the first time within 
the walls of a temple in New Spain. The patient min- 
isters tried once more to pour the light of the gospel 
into the benighted understandings of the islanders, and 
to expound the mysteries of the Catholic faith. The 
Indian interpreter must have afforded rather a dubious 
channel for the transmission of such abstruse doctrines. 
But they at length found favor with their auditors, 
who, whether overawed by the bold bearing of the in- 
vaders, or convinced of the impotence of deities that 
could not shield their own shrines from violation, now 
consented to embrace Christianity. 5 

While Cortes was thus occupied with the triumphs 
of the Cross, he received intelligence that Ordaz had 
returned from Yucatan without tidings of the Spanish 
captives. Though much chagrined, the general did 
not choose to postpone longer his departure from Co- 

5 Carta de Vera Cruz, MS. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 13. — Herrera 
Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 4, cap. 7. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., 
cap. 78. — Las Casas, whose enlightened views in religion would have 
done honor to the present age, insists on the futility of these forced 
conversions, by which it was proposed in a few days to wean men from 
the idolatry which they had been taught to reverence from the cradle. 
"The only way of doing this," he says, "is by long, assiduous, and 
faithful preaching, until the heathen shall gather some ideas of the 
true nature of the Deity and of the doctrines they are to embrace. 
Above all, the lives of the Christians should be such as to exemplify 
the truth of these doctrines, that, seeing this, the poor Indian may 
glorify the Father, and acknowledge him, who has such worshippers, 
for the true and only God." See the original remarks, which I quote 
in extenso, as a good specimen of the bishop's style when kindled by 
his subject into eloquence, in Appendix, Part 2, No. 6. 



zumel. The fleet had been well stored with provisions 
by the friendly inhabitants, and, embarking his troops, 
Cortes, in the beginning of March, took leave of its 
hospitable shores. The squadron had not proceeded 
far, however, before a leak in one of the vessels com- 
pelled them to return to the same port. The detention 
was attended with important consequences ; so much 
so, indeed, that a writer of the time discerns in it "a 
great mystery and a miracle." s 

Soon after landing, a canoe with several Indians was 
seen making its way from the neighboring shores of 
Yucatan. On reaching the island, one of the men in- 
quired, in broken Castilian, "if he were among Chris- 
tians," and, being answered in the affirmative, threw 
himself on his knees and returned thanks to Heaven 
for his delivery. He was one of the unfortunate cap- 
tives for whose fate so much interest had been felt. 
His name was Geronimo de Aguilar, a native of Ecija, 
in Old Spain, where he had been regularly educated for 
the church. He had been established with the colony 
at Darien, and on a voyage from that place to Hispa- 
niola, eight years previous, was wrecked near the coast 
of Yucatan. He escaped with several of his com- 
panions in the ship's boat, where some perished from 
hunger and exposure, while others were sacrificed, on 
their reaching land, by the cannibal natives of the 
peninsula. Aguilar was preserved from the same dis- 
mal fate by escaping into the interior, where he fell 
into the hands of a powerful cacique, who, though he 
spared his life, treated him at first with great rigor. 

6 " Muy gran misterio y milagro de Dios." Carta de Vera Cruz, 


The patience of the captive, however, and his singular 
humility, touched the better feelings of the chief- 
tain, who would have persuaded Aguilar to take a wife 
among his people, but the ecclesiastic steadily refused, 
in obedience to his vows. This admirable constancy 
excited the distrust of the cacique, who put his virtue 
to a severe test by various temptations, and much of the 
same sort as those with which the Devil is said to have 
assailed St. Anthony. 7 From all these fiery trials, 
however, like his ghostly predecessor, he came out un- 
scorched. Continence is too rare and difficult a virtue 
with barbarians, not to challenge their veneration, and 
the practice of it has made the reputation of more than 
one saint in the Old as well as the New World. Agui- 
lar was now intrusted with the care of his master's 
household and his numerous wives. He was a man of 
discretion, as well as virtue ; and his counsels were 
found so salutary that he was consulted on all im- 
portant matters. In short, Aguilar became a great 
man among the Indians. 

It was with much regret, therefore, that his master 
received the proposals for his return to his country- 
men, to which nothing but the rich treasure of glass 
beads, hawk -bells, and other jewels of like value, sent 
for his ransom, would have induced him to consent. 
When Aguilar reached the coast, there had been so 
much delay that the brigantines had sailed ; and it was 

7 They are enumerated by Herrera with a minuteness which may 
claim at least the merit of giving a much higher notion of Aguilar's 
virtue than the barren generalities of the text. (Hist, general, dec. 2, 
lib. 4, cap. 6-8.) The story is prettily told by Washington Irving. 
Voyages and Discoveries of the Companions cf Columbus (London, 
1833), P- s6 3. et seq. 



owing to the fortunate return of the fleet to Cozumel 
that he was enabled to join it. 

On appearing before Cortes, the poor man saluted 
him in the Indian style, by touching the earth with 
his hand and carrying it to his head. The commander, 
raising him up, affectionately embraced him, covering 
him at the same time with his own cloak, as Aguilar 
was simply clad in the habiliments of the country, 
somewhat too scanty for a European eye. It was long, 
indeed, before the tastes which he had acquired in the 
freedom of the forest could be reconciled to the con- 
straints either of dress or manners imposed by the arti- 
ficial forms of civilization. Aguilar' s long residence 
in the country had familiarized him with the Mayan 
dialects of Yucatan, and, as he gradually revived his 
Castilian, he became of essential importance as an 
interpreter. Cortes saw the advantage of this from 
the first, but he could not fully estimate all the con- 
sequences that were to flow from it. 8 

The repairs of the vessels being at length completed, 
the Spanish commander once more took leave of the 
friendly natives of Cozumel, and set sail on the 4th of 
March. Keeping as near as possible to the coast of 
Yucatan, he doubled Cape Catoche, and with flowing 
sheets swept down the broad bay of Campeachy, fringed 
with the rich dye-woods which have since furnished so 
important an article of commerce to Europe. He 
passed Potonchan, where Cordova had experienced a 

8 Camargo, Historia de Tlascala, MS. — Oviedo, Hist, de las Indias, 
MS., lib. 33, cap. 1. — Martyr, De Insulis, p. 347. — Bernal Diaz, Hist 
de la Conquista, cap. 29. — Carta de Vera Cruz, MS. — Las Casas, 
Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 115, 116. 



rough reception from the natives ; and soon after 
reached the mouth of the Rio de Tabasco, or Grijalva, 
in which that navigator had carried on so lucrative a 
traffic. Though mindful of the great object of his 
voyage, — the visit to the Aztec territories, — he was 
desirous of acquainting himself with the resources of 
this country, and determined to ascend the river and 
visit the great town on its borders. 

The water was so shallow, from the accumulation of 
sand at the mouth of the stream, that the general was 
obliged to leave the ships at anchor and to embark in 
the boats with a part only of his forces. The banks 
were thickly studded with mangrove-trees, that, with 
their roots shooting up and interlacing one another, 
formed a kind of impervious screen or net-work, be- 
hind which the dark forms of the natives were seen 
glancing to and fro with the most menacing looks and 
gestures. Cortes, much surprised at these unfriendly 
demonstrations, so unlike what he had had reason to 
expect, moved cautiously up the stream. When he 
had reached an open place, where a large number of 
Indians were assembled, he asked, through his inter- 
preter, leave to land, explaining at the same time his 
amicable intentions. But the Indians, brandishing 
their weapons, answered only with gestures of angry 
defiance. Though much chagrined, Cortes thought it 
best not to urge the matter further that evening, but 
withdrew to a neighboring island, where he disem- 
barked his troops, resolved to effect a landing on the 
following morning. 

When day broke, the Spaniards saw the opposite 
banks lined with a much more numerous array than on 



the preceding evening, while the canoes along the 
shore were filled with bands of armed warriors^ Cortes 
now made his preparations for the attack. He first 
landed a detachment of a hundred men under Alonso 
de Avila, at a point somewhat lower down the stream, 
sheltered by a thick grove of palms, from-which a road, 
as he knew, led to the town of Tabasco, giving orders 
to his officer to march at once on the place, while he 
himself advanced to assault it in front. 9 

Then, embarking the remainder of his troops, Cortes 
crossed the river in face of the enemy ; but, before 
commencing hostilities, that he might "act with entire 
regard to justice, and in obedience to the instructions 
of the Royal Council," 10 he first caused proclamation 
to be made, through the interpreter, that he desired 
only a free passage for his men, and that he proposed 
to revive the friendly relations which had formerly 
subsisted between his countrymen and the natives. He 
assured them that if blood were spilt the sin would lie 
on their heads, and that resistance would be useless, 
since he was resolved at all hazards to take up his 
quarters that night in the town of Tabasco. This pro- 
clamation, delivered in lofty tone, and duly recorded 
by the notary, was answered by the Indians — who 
might possibly have comprehended one word in ten of 
it — with shouts of defiance and a shower of arrows. 11 

9 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 31. — Carta de Vera Cruz 
MS. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 18. — Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, 
MS., lib. 3, cap. 118. — Martyr, De Insulis, p. 348. — There are some 
discrepancies between the statements of Bernal Diaz and the Letter 
from Vera Cruz ; both by parties who were present. 

10 Carta de Vera Cruz, MS. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, 
cap. 31. 

11 " See," exclaims the Bishop of Chiapa, in his caustic vein, " the 


Cortes, having now complied with all the requisitions 
of a loyal cavalier, and shifted the responsibility from 
his own shoulders to those of the Royal Council, 
brought his boats alongside of the Indian canoes. 
They grappled fiercely together, and both parties were 
soon in the water, which rose above the girdle. The 
struggle was not long, though desperate. The superior 
strength of the Europeans prevailed, and they forced 
the enemy back to land. Here, however, they were 
supported by their countrymen, who showered down 
darts, arrows, and blazing billets of wood on the heads 
of the invaders. The banks were soft and slippery, 
and it was with difficulty the soldiers made good their 
footing. Cortes lost a sandal in the mud, but con- 
tinued to fight barefoot, with great exposure of his per- 
son, as the Indians, who soon singled out the leader, 
called to one another, " Strike at the chief!" 

At length the Spaniards gained the bank, and were 
able to come into something like order, when they 
opened a brisk fire from their arquebuses and cross- 
reasonableness of this ' requisition,' or, to speak more correctly, the 
folly and insensibility of the Royal Council, who could find, in the re- 
fusal of the Indians to receive it, a good pretext for war." (Hist, de 
las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 118.) In another place he pronounces an 
animated invective against the iniquity of those who covered up hos- 
tilities under this empty form of words, the import of which was utterly 
incomprehensible to the barbarians. (Ibid., lib. 3, cap. 57.) The 
famous formula, used by the Spanish conquerors on this occasion, 
was drawn up by Dr. Palacios Reubios, a man of letters, and a mem- 
ber of the King's council. " But I laugh at him and his letters," ex- 
claims Oviedo, " if he thought a word of it could be comprehended by 
the untutored Indians!" (Hist, de las Ind., MS., lib. 29, cap. 7.) The 
regular Manifesto, requirimiento, may be found translated in the con- 
cluding pages of Irving's " Voyages of the Companions of Columbus." 



bows. The enemy, astounded by the roar and flash 
of the fire-arms, of which they had had no experience, 
fell back, and retreated behind a breast-work of timber 
thrown across the way. The Spaniards, hot in the pur- 
suit, soon carried these rude defences, and drove the 
Tabascans before them towards the town, where they 
again took shelter behind their palisades. 

Meanwhile Avila had arrived from the opposite 
quarter, and the natives, taken by surprise, made no 
further attempt at resistance, but abandoned the place 
to the Christians. They had previously removed their 
families and effects. Some provisions fell into the 
hands of the victors, but little gold, "a circumstance," 
says Las Casas, "which gave them no particular satis- 
faction." I2 It was a very populous place. The houses 
were mostly of mud ; the better sort of stone and 
lime ; affording proofs in the inhabitants of a superior 
refinement to that found in the Islands, as their stout 
resistance had given evidence of superior valor. 13 

12 " Hallaronlas llenas de maiz e gallinas y otros vastimentos, oro 
ninguno, de lo que ellos no rescivieron mucho plazer." Hist, de las 
Ind., MS., ubi supra. 

•3 Peter Martyr gives a glowing picture of this Indian capital. " Ad 
fluminis ripam protentum dicunt esse oppidum, quantum non ausim 
dicere: mille quingentorum passuum, ait Alaminus nauclerus, et do- 
morum quinque ac viginti millium : stringunt alij, ingens tamen faten- 
tur et celebre. Hortis intersecantur domus, quse sunt egregie lapidi- 
bus et cake fabrefactce, maxima industria et architectorum arte." (De 
Insulis, p. 349.) With his usual inquisitive spirit, he gleaned all the 
particulars from the old pilot Alaminos, and from two of the officers 
of Cortes who revisited Spain in the course of that year. Tabasco 
was in the neighborhood of those ruined cities of Yucatan which have 
lately been the theme of so much speculation. The encomiums of 
Martyr are not so remarkable as the apathy of other contemporary 

Vol. I. 24 


Cortes, having thus made himself master of the town, 
took formal possession of it for the crown of Castile. 
He gave three cuts with his sword on a large ce/fra-tree 
which grew in the place, and proclaimed aloud that he 
took possession of the city in the name and behalf of 
the Catholic sovereigns, and would maintain and de- 
fend the same with sword and buckler against all who 
should gainsay it. The same vaunting declaration 
was also made by the soldiers, and the whole was duly 
recorded and attested by the notary. This was the 
usual simple but chivalric form with which the Spanish 
cavaliers asserted the royal title to the conquered terri- 
tories in the New World. It was a good title, doubt- 
less, against the claims of any other European potentate. 

The general took up his quarters that night in the 
court-yard of the principal temple. He posted his sen- 
tinels, and took all the precautions practised in wars 
with a civilized foe. Indeed, there was reason for 
them. A suspicious silence seemed to reign through 
the place and its neighborhood ; and tidings were 
brought that the interpreter, Melchorejo, had fled, 
leaving his Spanish dress hanging on a tree. Cortes 
was disquieted by the desertion of this man, who would 
not only inform his countrymen of the small number 
of the Spaniards, but dissipate any illusions that might 
be entertained of their superior natures. 

On the following morning, as no traces of the enemy 
were visible, Cortes ordered out a detachment under 
Alvarado, and another under Francisco de Lujo, to 
reconnoitre. The latter officer had not advanced a 
league, before he learned the position of the Indians, 
by their attacking him in such force that he was fain 



to take shelter in a large stone building, where he was 
closely besieged. Fortunately, the loud yells of the 
assailants, like most barbarous nations seeking to strike 
terror by their ferocious cries, reached the ears of 
Alvarado and his men, who, speedily advancing to 
the relief of their comrades, enabled them to force 
a passage through the enemy. Both parties retreated, 
closely pursued, on the town, when Cortes, marching 
out to their support, compelled the Tabascans to 

A few prisoners were taken in this skirmish. By 
them Cortes found his worst apprehensions verified. 
The country was everywhere in arms. A force con- 
sisting of many thousands had assembled from the 
neighboring provinces, and a general assault was re- 
solved on for the next day. To the general's inquiries 
why he had been received in so different a manner 
from his predecessor, Grijalva, they answered that 
"the conduct of the Tabascans then had given great 
offence to the other Indian tribes, who taxed them with 
treachery and cowardice ; so that they had promised, 
on any return of the white men, to resist them in the 
same manner as their neighbors had done." I4 

Cortes might now well regret that he had allowed 
himself to deviate from the direct object of his enter- 
prise, and to become entangled in a doubtful war 
which could lead to no profitable result. But it was 
too late to repent. He had taken the step, and had 
no alternative but to go forward. To retreat would 

M Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 31, 32. — Gomara, Cr6- 
nica, cap. 18. — Las Casas, Hist, de las Indi&s, MS., lib. 3, cap. 118, 
119. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 78, 79. 


dishearten his own men at the outset, impair their 
confidence in him as their leader, and confirm the 
arrogance of his foes, the tidings of whose success 
might precede him on his voyage and prepare the way 
for greater mortifications and defeats. He did not 
hesitate as to the course he was to pursue, but, calling 
his officers together, announced his intention to give 
battle the following morning. ,s 

He sent back to the vessels such as were disabled by 
their wounds, and ordered the remainder of the forces 
to join the camp. Six of the heavy guns were also 
taken from the ships, together with all the horses. The 
animals were stiff and torpid from long confinement 
on board ; but a few hours' exercise restored them to 
their strength and usual spirit. He gave the command 
of the artillery — if it may be dignified with the name — to 
a soldier named Mesa, who had acquired some experi- 
ence as an engineer in the Italian wars. The infantry 
he put under the orders of Diego de Ordaz, and took 
charge of the cavalry himself. It consisted of some 
of the most valiant gentlemen of his little band, 
among whom may be mentioned Alvarado, Velasquez 
de Leon, Avila, Puertocarrero, Olid, Montejo. Having 
thus made all the necessary arrangements, and settled 
his plan of battle, he retired to rest, — but not to 
slumber. His feverish mind, as may well be imagined, 
was filled with anxiety for the morrow, which might 
decide the fate of his expedition ; and, as was his 

'5 According to Solis, who quotes the address of Cortes on the occa- 
sion, he summoned a council of his captains to advise him as to the 
course he should pursue. (Conquista, cap. 19.) It is possible ; but 
I find no warrant for it anywhere. 


wont on such occasions, he was frequently observed, 
during the night, going the rounds, and visiting the 
sentinels, to see that no one slept upon his post. 

At the first glimmering of light he mustered his 
army, and declared his purpose not to abide, cooped 
up in the town, the assault of the enemy, but to march 
at once against him For he well knew that the spirits 
rise with action, and that the attacking party gathers a 
confidence from the very movement, which is not felt 
by the one who is passively, perhaps anxiously, await- 
ing the assault. The Indians were understood to be 
encamped on a level ground a few miles distant from 
the city, called the plain of Ceutla. The general 
commanded that Ordaz should march with the foot, 
including the artillery, directly across the country, and 
attack them in front, while he himself would fetch a 
circuit with the horse, and turn their flank when thus 
engaged, or fall upon their rear. 

These dispositions being completed, the little army 
heard mass and then sallied forth from the wooden 
walls of Tabasco. It was Lady-day, the twenty-fifth of 
March, — long memorable in the annals of New Spain. 
The district around the town was checkered with 
patches of maize, and, on the lower level, with planta- 
tions of cacao, — supplying the beverage, and perhaps 
the coin, of the country, as in Mexico. These plan- 
tations, requiring constant irrigation, were fed by 
numerous canals and reservoirs of water, so that the 
country could not be traversed without great toil and 
difficulty. It was, however, intersected by a narrow path 
or causeway over which the cannon could be dragged. 

The troops advanced more than a league on their 


laborious march, without descrying the enemy. The 
weather was sultry, but few of them were embarrassed 
by the heavy mail worn by the European cavaliers at 
that period. Their cotton jackets, thickly quilted, 
afforded a tolerable protection against the arrows of the 
Indians, and allowed room for the freedom and activity 
of movement essential to a life of rambling adventure 
in the wilderness. 

At length they came in sight of the broad plains of 
Ceutla, and beheld the dusky lines of the enemy stretch- 
ing, as far as the eye could reach, along the edge of 
the horizon. The Indians had shown some sagacity in 
the choice of their position ; and, as the weary Span- 
iards came slowly on, floundering through the morass, 
the Tabascans set up their hideous battle-cries, and 
discharged volleys of arrows, stones, and other missiles, 
which rattled like hail on the shields and helmets of 
the assailants. Many were severely wounded before 
they could gain the firm ground, where they soon 
cleared a space for themselves, and opened a heavy 
fire of artillery and musketry on the dense columns 
of the enemy, which presented a fatal mark for the 
balls. Numbers were swept down at every discharge ; 
but the bold barbarians, far from being dismayed, 
threw up dust and leaves to hide their losses, and, 
sounding their war-instruments, shot off fresh flights 
of arrows in return. 

They even pressed closer on the Spaniards, and, when 
driven off by a vigorous charge, soon turned again, 
and, rolling back like the waves of the ocean, seemed 
ready to overwhelm the little band by weight of num- 
bers. Thus cramped, the latter had scarcely room to 


perform their necessary evolutions, or even to work 
their guns with effect. 16 

The engagement had now lasted more than an hour, 
and the Spaniards, sorely pressed, looked with great 
anxiety for the arrival of the horse — which some un- 
accountable impediments must have detained — to re- 
lieve them from their perilous position. At this crisis, 
the farthest columns of the Indian army were seen to 
be agitated and thrown into a disorder that rapidly 
spread through the whole mass. It was not long before 
the ears of the Christians were saluted with the cheer- 
ing war-cry of " San Jago and San Pedro !" and they 
beheld the bright helmets and swords of the Castilian 
chivalry flashing back the rays of the morning sun, as 
they dashed through the ranks of the enemy, striking 
to the right and left, and scattering dismay around 
them. The eye of faith, indeed, could discern the 
patron Saint of Spain, himself, mounted on his gray 
war-horse, heading the rescue and trampling over the 
bodies of the fallen infidels ! I? 

16 Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 119. — Gomara, 
Cronica, cap. 19, 20. — Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 4, cap. II. — 
Martyr, De Insulis, p. 350. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 79. 
— Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 33, 36. — Carta de Vera 
Cruz, MS. 

*7 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 79. — " Cortes supposed it 
was his own tutelar saint, St. Peter," says Pizarro y Orellana; "but 
the common and indubitable opinion is that it was our glorious apostle 
St. James, the bulwark and safeguard of our nation." (Varones 
ilustres, p. 73.) " Sinner that I am," exclaims honest Bernal Diaz, in 
a more skeptical vein, " it was not permitted to me to see either the 
one or the other of the Apostles on this occasion." Hist, de la Con- 
quista, cap. 34.* 

• [The remark of Bernal Diaz is not to be taken as ironical. His 
faith in the same vision on subsequent occasions is expressed without 


The approach of Cortes had been greatly retarded 
by the broken nature of the ground. When he came 
up, the Indians were so hotly engaged that he was upon 
them before they observed his approach. He ordered 
his men to direct their lances at the faces of their 
opponents, 18 who, terrified at the monstrous apparition, 
— for they supposed the rider and the horse, which 
they had never before seen, to be one and the same, 19 
— were seized with a panic. Ordaz availed himself of 
it to command a general charge along the line, and the 
Indians, many of them throwing away their arms, fled 
without attempting further resistance. 

18 It was the order — as the reader may remember — given by Caesar 
to his followers in his battle with Pompey : 

' Adversosque jubet ferro confundere vultus." 

Lucan, Pharsalia, lib. 7, v. 573. 

»9 " Equites," says Paolo Giovio, "unum integrum Centaurorum 
specie animal esse existimarent." Elogia Virorum Illustrium (Basil, 
1696), lib. 6, p. 229. 

demur. In the present case he recognized the rider of the gray horse as 
a Spanish cavalier, Francisco de Morla. It appears from the account 
of Andres de Tapia, another companion of Cortes, whose narrative has 
been recently published, that, owing to canals and other impediments, 
the cavalry was unable to effect the intended detour, and it therefore 
returned and joined the infantry. The latter, meanwhile, having seen a 
cavalier on a gray horse charging the Indians in their rear, supposed 
that the cavalry had penetrated to that quarter. Cortes, on hearing 
this, exclaimed, " Adelante, compaiieros, que Dios es con nosotros." 
(Icazbalceta, Col. de Doc. para la Hist, de Mexico, torn, i.) Tdpia says 
nothing about St. James or St. Peter, and perhaps suspected that the 
incident was a ruse contrived by Cortes. Generally, however, such 
legends seem to be sufficiently explained by the religious belief and 
excited imagination of the narrators. See the remarks, on this point, 
of Macaulay, who notices the account of Diaz, in the introduction to 
his lay of the Battle of the Lake Regillus. — Ed.] 


Cortes was too content with the victory to care to 
follow it up by dipping his sword in the blood of the 
fugitives. He drew off his men to a copse of palms 
which skirted the place, and under their broad canopy 
the soldiers offered up thanksgivings to the Almighty 
for the victory vouchsafed them. The field of battle 
was made the site of a town, called, in honor of the 
day on which the action took place, Sa?ita Maria de la 
Victoria, long afterwards the capital of the province. 20 
The number of those who fought or fell in the engage- 
ment is altogether doubtful. Nothing, indeed, is more 
uncertain than numerical estimates of barbarians. And 
they gain nothing in probability when they come, as 
in the present instance, from the reports of their 
enemies. Most accounts, however, agree that the 
Indian force consisted of five squadrons of eight 
thousand men each. There is more discrepancy as to 
the number of slain, varying from one to thirty thou- 
sand ! In this monstrous discordance, the common 
disposition to exaggerate may lead us to look for truth 
in the neighborhood of the smallest number. The 
loss of the Christians was inconsiderable ; not exceed- 
ing — if we receive their own reports, probably, from 
the same causes, much diminishing the truth — two 
killed and less than a hundred wounded ! We may 
readily comprehend the feelings of the Conquerors, 
when they declared that "Heaven must have fought 
on their side, since their own strength could never 
have prevailed against such a multitude of enemies !" 3I 

20 Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, torn. iii. p. 11. 

21 " Crean Vras. Reales Altezas por cierto, que esta batalla fu<5 
vencida mas por voluntad de Dios que por nras. fuerzas, porque para 


Several prisoners were taken in the battle, among 
them two chiefs. Cortes gave them their liberty, and 
sent a message by them to their countrymen " that 
he would overlook the past, if they would come in 
at once and tender their submission. Otherwise he 
would ride over the land, and put every living thing 
in it, man, woman, and child, to the sword ! ' ' With 
this formidable menace ringing in their ears, the envoys 

But the Tabascans had no relish for further hostil- 
ities. A body of inferior chiefs appeared the next 
day, clad in dark dresses of cotton, intimating their 
abject condition, and implored leave to bury their 
dead. It was granted by the general, with many 
assurances of his friendly disposition ; but at the same 
time he told them he expected their principal caciques, 
as he would treat with none other. These soon pre- 
sented themselves, attended by a numerous train of vas- 
sals, who followed with timid curiosity to the Christian 
camp. Among their propitiatory gifts were twenty 
female slaves, which, from the character of one of 
them, proved of infinitely more consequence than was 
anticipated by either Spaniards or Tabascans. Con- 
fidence was soon restored, and was succeeded by a 
friendly intercourse, and the interchange of Spanish 
toys for the rude commodities of the country, articles 

con quarenta mil hombres de guerra, poca defensa fuera quatrozientos 
que nosotros eramos." (Carta de Vera Cruz, MS. — Gomara, Cronica, 
cap. 20. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 35.) It is Las 
Casas, who, regulating his mathematics, as usual, by his feelings, rates 
the Indian loss at the exorbitant amount cited in the text. " This," 
he concludes, dryly, " was the first preaching of the gospel by Cortes 
in New Spain!" Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 119. 


of food, cotton, and a few gold ornaments of little 
value. When asked where the precious metal was 
procured, they pointed to the west, and answered, 
"Culhua," "Mexico." The Spaniards saw this was 
no place for them to traffic, or to tarry in. Yet here, 
they were not many leagues distant from a potent and 
opulent city, or what once had been so, the ancient Pa- 
lenque. But its glory may have even then passed away, 
and its name have been forgotten by the surrounding 

Before his departure the Spanish commander did not 
omit to provide for one great object of his expedition, 
the conversion of the Indians. He first represented to 
the caciques that he had been sent thither by a power- 
ful monarch on the other side of the water, for whom 
he had now a right to claim their allegiance. He 
then caused the reverend fathers Olmedo and Diaz 
to enlighten their minds, as far as possible, in regard 
to the great truths of revelation, urging them to 
receive these in place of their own heathenish abomi- 
nations. The Tabascans, whose perceptions were no 
doubt materially quickened by the discipline they had 
undergone, made but a faint resistance to either pro- 
posal. The next day was Palm Sunday, and the 
general resolved to celebrate their conversion by one 
of those pompous ceremonials of the Church, which 
should make a lasting impression on their minds. 

A solemn procession was formed of the whole army, 
with the ecclesiastics at their head, each soldier bearing 
a palm-branch in his hand. The concourse was swelled 
by thousands of Indians of both sexes, who followed 
in curious astonishment at the spectacle. The long 


files bent their way through the flowery savannas that 
bordered the settlement, to the principal temple, where 
an altar was raised, and the image of the presiding 
deity was deposed to make room for that of the Virgin 
with the infant Saviour. Mass was celebrated by 
Father Olmedo, and the soldiers who were capable 
joined in the solemn chant. The natives listened in 
profound silence, and, if we may believe the chronicler 
of the event who witnessed it, were melted into tears; 
while their hearts were penetrated with reverential 
awe for the God of those terrible beings who seemed 
to wield in their own hands the thunder and the 
lightning. 22 

The Roman Catholic communion has, it must be 
admitted, some decided advantages over the Protestant, 
for the purposes of proselytism. The dazzling pomp 
of its service and its touching appeal to the sensibili- 
ties affect the imagination of the rude child of nature 
much more powerfully than the cold abstractions of 
Protestantism, which, addressed to the reason, demand 
a degree of refinement and mental culture in the audi- 
ence to comprehend them. The respect, moreover, 
shown by the Catholic for the material representations 
of Divinity, greatly facilitates the same object. It is 
true, such representations are used by him only as 
incentives, not as the objects of worship. But this 
distinction is lost on the savage, who finds such forms 
of adoration too analogous to his own to impose any 
great violence on his feelings. It is only required of 

32 Gomara, Cronica, cap. 21, 22. — Carta de Vera Cruz, MS. — 
Martyr, De Insulis, p. 351. — Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., ubi 


him to transfer his homage from the image of Quetzal- 
coatl, the benevolent deity who walked among men, to 
that of the Virgin or the Redeemer ; from the Cross, 
which he has worshipped as the emblem of the god 
of rain, to the same Cross, the symbol of salvation. 

These solemnities concluded, Cortes prepared to 
return to his ships, well satisfied with the impression 
made on the new converts, and with the conquests he 
had thus achieved for Castile and Christianity. The 
soldiers, taking leave of their Indian friends, entered 
the boats with the palm-branches in their hands, and, 
descending the river, re-embarked on board their ves- 
sels, which rode at anchor at its mouth. A favorable 
breeze was blowing, and the little navy, opening its 
sails to receive it, was soon on its way again to the 
golden shores of Mexico. 

Vol. I. — n 25 




The fleet held its course so near the shore that the 
inhabitants could be seen on it ; and, as it swept along 
the winding borders of the Gulf, the soldiers, who had 
been on the former expedition with Grijalva, pointed 
out to their companions the memorable places on the 
coast. Here was the Rio de Alvarado, named after the 
gallant adventurer, who was present also in this ex- 
pedition ; there the Rio de Vanderas, in which Grijalva 
had carried on so lucrative a commerce with the Mexi- 
cans ; and there the Is/a de los Sacrificios, where the 
Spaniards first saw the vestiges of human sacrifice on 
the coast. Puertocarrero, as he listened to these 
reminiscences of the sailors, repeated the words of the 
old ballad of Montesinos, " Here is France, there is 
Paris, and there the waters of the Duero," * etc. "But 

i "Cata Francia, Montesinos, 
Cata Paris la ciudad, 
Cata las aguas de Duero 
Do van a dar en la mar." 

They are the words of the popular old ballad, first published, I be- 
lieve, in the Romancero de Amberes, and lately by Dursji, Romances 
caballerescos 6 histdricos, Parte I, p. 82. 


I advise you," he added, turning to Cortes, "to look 
out only for the rich lands, and the best way to govern 
them." "Fear not," replied his commander: "if 
Fortune but favors me as she did Orlando, and I have 
such gallant gentlemen as you for my companions, I 
shall understand myself very well." 2 

The fleet had now arrived off San Juan de Ulua, the 
island so named by Grijalva. The weather was tem- 
perate and serene, and crowds of natives were gathered 
on the shore of the main land, gazing at the strange 
phenomenon, as the vessels glided along under easy 
sail on the smooth bosom of the waters. It was the 
evening of Thursday in Passion Week. The air came 
pleasantly off the shore, and Cortes, liking the spot, 
thought he might safely anchor under the lee of the 
island, which would shelter him from the ?iortes that 
sweep over these seas with fatal violence in the winter, 
sometimes even late in the spring. 

The ships had not been long at anchor, when a light 
pirogue, filled with natives, shot off from the neighbor- 
ing continent, and steered for the general's vessel, dis- 
tinguished by the royal ensign of Castile floating from 
the mast. The Indians came on board with a frank 
confidence, inspired by the accounts of the Spaniards 
spread by their countrymen who had traded with Gri- 
jalva. They brought presents of fruits and flowers and 
little ornaments of gold, which they gladly exchanged 
for the usual trinkets. Cortes was baffled in his at- 
tempts to hold a conversation with his visitors by 
means of the interpreter, Aguilar, who was ignorant of 
the language ; the Mayan dialects, with which he was 

2 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 37. 



conversant, bearing too little resemblance to the Aztec. 
The natives supplied the deficiency, as far as possible, 
by the uncommon vivacity and significance of their 
gestures, — the hieroglyphics of speech 3 but the Span- 
ish commander saw with chagrin the embarrassments he 
must encounter in future for want of a more perfect 
medium of communication. 3 In this dilemma, he was 
informed that one of the female slaves given to him by 
the Tabascan chiefs was a native Mexican, and under- 
stood the language. Her name — that given to her by 
the Spaniards — was Marina; and, as she was to ex- 
ercise a most important influence on their fortunes, it 
is necessary to acquaint the reader with something of 
her character and history. 

She was born at Painalla, in the province of Coatza- 
cualco, on the southeastern borders of the Mexican 
empire. Her father, a rich and powerful cacique, died 
when she was very young. Her mother married again, 
and, having a son, she conceived the infamous idea of 
securing to this offspring of her second union Marina's 
rightful inheritance. She accordingly feigned that the 
latter was dead, but secretly delivered her into the 
hands of some itinerant traders of Xicallanco. She 
availed herself, at the same time, of the death of a 
child of one of her slaves, to substitute the corpse for 
that of her own daughter, and celebrated the obsequies 
with mock solemnity. These particulars are related by 

3 Las Casas notices the significance of the Indian gestures as imply- 
ing a most active imagination: " Senas e meneos con que los Yndios 
mucho mas que otras generaciones entienden y se dan a entender, por 
tener muy bivos los sentidos exteriores y tambien los interiores, mayor- 
mente que es admirable su imaginacion." Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 
3, cap. 120. 


2 93 

the honest old soldier Bernal Diaz, who knew the 
mother, and witnessed the generous treatment of her 
afterwards by Marina. By the merchants the Indian 
maiden was again sold to the cacique of Tabasco, who 
delivered her, as we have seen, to the Spaniards. 

From the place of her birth, she was well acquainted 
with the Mexican tongue, which, indeed, she is said to 
have spoken with great elegance. Her residence in 
Tabasco familiarized her with the dialects of that coun- 
try, so that she could carry on a conversation with 
Aguilar, which he in turn rendered into the Castilian. 
Thus a certain though somewhat circuitous channel was 
opened to Cortes for communicating with the Aztecs ; 
a circumstance of the last importance to the success of 
his enterprise. It was not very long, however, before 
Marina, who had a lively genius, made herself so far 
mistress of the Castilian as to supersede the necessity 
of any other linguist. She learned it the more readily, 
as it was to her the language of love. 

Cortes, who appreciated the value of her services 
from the first, made her his interpreter, then his sec- 
retary, and, won by her charms, his mistress. She had 
a son by him, Don Martin Cortes, comendador of the 
Military Order of St. James, less distinguished by his 
birth than his unmerited persecutions. 

Marina was at this time in the morning of life. She 
is said to have possessed uncommon personal attrac- 
tions, 4 and her open, expressive features indicated her 

4 " Hermosa como Diosa," beautiful as a goddess, says Camargo of 
her. (Hist, de Tlascala, MS.) A modern poet pays her charms the 
following not inelegant tribute : 

" Admira tan lucida cabalgada 
Y espectaculo tal Dona Marina, 


2 9 4 


generous temper. She always remained faithful to the 
countrymen of her adoption ; and her knowledge of 
the language and customs of the Mexicans, and often 
of their designs, enabled her to extricate the Spaniards, 
more than once, from the most embarrassing and peril- 
ous situations. She had her errors, as we have seen. 
But they should be rather charged to the defects of 
early education, and to the evil influence of him to 
whom in the darkness of her spirit she looked with 
simple confidence for the light to guide her. All agree 
that she was full of excellent qualities, and the impor- 
tant services which she rendered the Spaniards have 
made her memory deservedly dear to them ; while the 
name of Malinche s — the name by which she is still 
knoAvn in Mexico — was pronounced with kindness by 
the conquered races, with whose misfortunes she showed 
an invariable sympathy. 6 

India noble al caudillo presentada, 
De fortuna y belleza peregrina. 
# # * * # * 
Con despejado espiritu y viveza 
Gira la vista en el concurso mudo; 
Rico manto de extrema sutileza 
Con chapas de oro autorizarla pudo, 
Prendido con bizarra gentileza 
Sobre los pechos en ayroso nudo ; 
Reyna parcce de la Indiana Zona, 
Varonil y hermosisima Amazona." 

Moratin, Las Naves de Cortes destruidas. 

5 [" Malinche" is a corruption of the Aztec word " Malintzin," which 
is itself a corruption of the Spanish name " Marina." The Aztecs, 
having no r in their alphabet, substituted / for it, while the ter- 
mination tzin was added in token of respect, so that the name was 
equivalent to Dona or Lady Marina. Conquista de Mejico (trad, de 
Vega, anotada por D. Lucas Alaman), torn. ii. pp. 17, 269.] 

6 Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 120. — Gomara, 
Cronica, cap. 25, 26. — Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, torn. iii. pp. 12- 



With the aid of his two intelligent interpreters, 
Cortes entered into conversation with his Indian vis- 
itors. He learned that they were Mexicans, or rather 
subjects of the great Mexican empire, of which their 
own province formed one of the comparatively recent 
conquests. The country was ruled by a powerful mon- 
arch, called Moctheuzoma, or by Europeans more com- 
monly Montezuma, 7 who dwelt on the mountain plains 
of the interior, nearly seventy leagues from the coast; 
their own province was governed by one of his nobles, 
named Teuhtlile, whose residence was eight leagues 
distant. Cortes acquainted them in turn with his own 
friendly views in visiting their country, and with his 
desire of an interview with the Aztec governor. He 
then dismissed them loaded with presents, having first 
ascertained that there was abundance of gold in the 
interior, like the specimens they had brought. 

Cortes, pleased with the manners of the people and 
the goodly reports of the land, resolved to take up his 
quarters here for the present. The next morning, April 
21, being Good Friday, he landed, with all his force, on 

14. — Oviedo, Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 33, cap. 1. — Ixtlilxochitl, 
Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 79. — Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. — Bernal 
Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 37, 38. — There is some discordance in 
the notices of the early life of Marina. I have followed Bernal Diaz, — 
from his means of observation, the best authority. There is happily 
no difference in the estimate of her singular merits and services. 

7 The name of the Aztec monarch, like those of most persons and 
places in New Spain, has been twisted into all possible varieties of 
orthography. Cortes, in his letters, calls him " Muteczuma." Modern 
Spanish historians usually spell his name " Motezuma." I have pre- 
ferred to conform to the name by which he is usually known to English 
readers. It is the one adopted by Bernal Diaz, and by most writers 
near the time of the Conquest. Alaman, Disertaciones historicas, 
torn, i., apend. 2. 


the very spot where now stands the modern city of 
Vera Cruz. Little did the Conqueror imagine that 
the desolate beach on which he first planted his foot 
was one day to be covered by a flourishing city, the 
great mart of European and Oriental trade, the com- 
mercial capital of New Spain. 8 

It was a wide and level plain, except where the sand 
had been drifted into hillocks by the perpetual blow- 
ing of the norte. On these sand-hills he mounted his 
little battery of guns, so as to give him the command of 
the country. He then employed the troops in cutting 
down small trees and bushes which grew near, in order 
to provide a shelter from the weather. In this he was 
aided by the people of the country, sent, as it appeared, 
by the governor of the district to assist the Spaniards. 
With their help stakes were firmly set in the earth, and 
covered with boughs, and with mats and cotton car- 
pets, which the friendly natives brought with them. In 
this way they secured, in a couple of days, a good 
defence against the scorching rays of the sun, which 
beat with intolerable fierceness on the sands. The place 
was surrounded by stagnant marshes, the exhalations 
from which, quickened by the heat into the pestilent 
malaria, have occasioned in later times wider mortality 
to Europeans than all the hurricanes on the coast. The 
bilious disorders, now the terrible scourge of the tierra 
caliente, were little known before the Conquest. The 

8 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 79. — Clavigero, Stor. del 
Messico, torn. iii. p. 16. — New Vera Cruz, as the present town is called, 
is distinct, as we shall see hereafter, from that established by Cortes, 
and was not founded till the close of the sixteenth century, by the 
Conde de Monterey, Viceroy of Mexico. It received its privileges 
as a city from Philip III. in 1615. Ibid., torn. iii. p. 30, nota. 



seeds of the poison seem to have been scattered by the 
hand of civilization ; for it is only necessary to settle 
a town, and draw together a busy European population, 
in order to call out the malignity of the venom which 
had before lurked innoxious in the atmosphere. 9 

While these arrangements were in progress, the na- 
tives flocked in from the adjacent district, which was 
tolerably populous in the interior, drawn by a natural 
curiosity to see the wonderful strangers. They brought 
with them fruits, vegetables, flowers in abundance, 
game, and many dishes cooked after the fashion of the 
country, with little articles of gold and other orna- 
ments. They gave away some as presents, and bar- 
tered others for the wares of the Spaniards ; so that 
the camp, crowded with a motley throng of every age 
and sex, wore the appearance of a fair. From some 
of the visitors Cortes learned the intention of the 
governor to wait on him the following day. 

This was Easter. Teuhtlile arrived, as he had an- 
nounced, before noon. He was attended by a numer- 
ous train, and was met by Cortes, who conducted him 

9 The epidemic of the matlazahuatl, so fatal to the Aztecs, is shown 
by M. de Humboldt to have been essentially different from the vomito, 
or bilious fever of our day. Indeed, this disease is not noticed by the 
early conquerors and colonists, and, Clavigero asserts, was not known 
in Mexico till 1725. (Stor. del Messico, torn. i. p. 117, nota.) Hum- 
boldt, however, arguing that the same physical causes must have 
produced similar results, carries the disease back to a much higher 
antiquity, of which he discerns some traditional and historic vestiges. 
" II ne faut pas confondre l'epoque," he remarks, with his usual pen- 
etration, " a laquelle une maladie a et^ decrite pour la premiere fois, 
parce qu'elle a fait de grands ravages dans un court espace de temps, 
avec l'epoque de sa premiere apparition." Essai politique, torn. iv. p. 
161 et seq., and 179. 


with much ceremony to his tent, where his principal 
officers were assembled. The Aztec chief returned 
their salutations with polite though formal courtesy. 
Mass was first said by Father Olmedo, and the service 
was listened to by Teuhtlile and his attendants with 
decent reverence. A collation was afterwards served, 
at which the general entertained his guest with Spanish 
wines and confections. The interpreters were then in- 
troduced, and a conversation commenced between the 

The first inquiries of Teuhtlile were respecting the 
country of the strangers and the purport of their visit. 
Cortes told him that "he was the subject of a potent 
monarch beyond the seas, who ruled over an immense 
empire, and had kings and princes for his vassals ; that, 
acquainted with the greatness of the Mexican emperor, 
his master had desired to enter into a communication 
with him, and had sent him as his envoy to wait on 
Montezuma with a present in token of his good will, 
and a message which he must deliver in person." He 
concluded by inquiring of Teuhtlile when he could be 
admitted to his sovereign's presence. 

To this the Aztec noble somewhat haughtily replied, 
"How is it that you have been here only two days, 
and demand to see the emperor?" He then added, 
with more courtesy, that " he was surprised to learn 
there was another monarch as powerful as Montezuma, 
but that, if it were so, he had no doubt his master 
would be happy to communicate with him. He would 
send his couriers with the royal gift brought by the 
Spanish commander, and, so soon as he had learned 
Montezuma's will, would communicate it." 



Teuhtlile then commanded his slaves to bring for- 
ward the present intended for the Spanish general. It 
consisted of ten loads of fine cottons, several mantles 
of that curious feather-work whose rich and delicate 
dyes might vie with the most beautiful painting, and 
a wicker basket filled with ornaments of wrought 
gold, all calculated to inspire the Spaniards with high 
ideas of the wealth and mechanical ingenuity of the 

Cortes received these presents with suitable acknowl- 
edgments, and ordered his own attendants to lay before 
the chief the articles designed for Montezuma. These 
were an arm-chair richly carved and painted, a crimson 
cap of cloth, having a gold medal emblazoned with St. 
George and the dragon, and a quantity of collars, 
bracelets, and other ornaments of cut glass, which, in 
a country where glass was not to be had, might claim 
to have the value of real gems, and no doubt passed 
for such with the inexperienced Mexican. Teuhtlile 
observed a soldier in the camp with a shining gilt 
helmet on his head, which he said reminded him of 
one worn by the god Quetzalcoatl in Mexico ; and he 
showed a desire that Montezuma should see it. The 
coming of the Spaniards, as the reader will soon see, 
was associated with some traditions of this same deity. 
Cortes expressed his willingness that the casque should 
be sent to the emperor, intimating a hope that it would 
be returned filled with the gold dust of the country, 
that he might be able to compare its quality with that 
in his own ! He further told the governor, as we are 
informed by his chaplain, "that the Spaniards were 
troubled with a disease of the heart, for which gold was 


a specific remedy"! 10 "In short," says Las Casas, 
" he contrived to make his want of gold very clear to 
the governor. ' ' " 

While these things were passing, Cortes observed 
one of Teuhtlile's attendants busy with a pencil, ap- 
parently delineating some object. On looking at his 
work, he found that it was a sketch on canvas of the 
Spaniards, their costumes, arms, and, in short, different 
objects of interest, giving to each its appropriate form 
and color. This was the celebrated picture-writing of 
the Aztecs, and, as Teuhtlile informed him, this man 
was employed in portraying the various objects for the 
eye of Montezuma, who would thus gather a more vivid 
notion of their appearance than from any description 
by words. Cortes was pleased with the idea ; and, as 
he knew how much the effect would be heightened by 
converting still life into action, he ordered out the 
cavalry on the beach, the wet sands of which afforded 
a firm footing for the horses. The bold and rapid 
movements of the troops, as they went through their 
military exercises ; the apparent ease with which they 
managed the fiery animals on which they were mounted ; 
the glancing of their weapons, and the shrill cry of the 
trumpet, all filled the spectators with astonishment ; 
but when they heard the thunders of the cannon, which 
Cortes ordered to be fired at the same time, and wit- 
nessed the volumes of smoke and flame issuing from 
these terrible engines, and the rushing sound of the 
balls, as they dashed through the trees of the neigh- 
boring forest, shivering their branches into fragments, 

10 Gomara, Cronica, cap. 26. 

11 Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 119. 



they were filled with consternation, from which the 
Aztec chief himself was not wholly free. 

Nothing of all this was lost on the painters, who 
faithfully recorded, after their fashion, every partic- 
ular; not omitting the ships, — "the water-houses," as 
they called them, of the strangers, — which, with their 
dark hulls and snow-white sails reflected from the 
water, were swinging lazily at anchor on the calm 
bosom of the bay. All was depicted with a fidelity 
that excited in their turn the admiration of the Span- 
iards, who, doubtless, unprepared for this exhibition of 
skill, greatly overestimated the merits of the execution.* 

These various matters completed, Teuhtlile with his 
attendants withdrew from the Spanish quarters, with 
the same ceremony with which he had entered them ; 
leaving orders that his people should supply the troops 
with provisions and other articles requisite for their ac- 
commodation, till further instructions from the capital. 12 

12 Ixtlilxochitl, Relaciones, MS., No. 13. — Idem, Hist. Chich., MS., 
cap. 79. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 25, 26. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la 
Conquista, cap. 38. — Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 5, cap. 4. — 
Carta de Vera Cruz, MS. — Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 
13-15. — Tezozomoc, Cron. Mexicana, MS., cap. 107. 

* [According to a curious document published by Icazbalceta (Col. 
de Doc. para la Hist, de Mexico, torn, ii.), two of the principal caciques 
present on this occasion communicated secretly with Cortes, and, 
declaring themselves disaffected subjects of Montezuma, offered to 
facilitate the advance of the Spaniards by furnishing the general with 
paintings in which the various features of the country would be cor- 
rectly delineated. The offer was accepted, and on the next visit the 
paintings were produced, and proved subsequently of great service to 
Cortes, who rewarded the donors with certain grants. But the genuine- 
ness of this paper, though supported by so distinguished a scholar as 
Senor Ramirez, is more than questionable. — Ed.] 
Vol. I. 26 




We must now take leave of the Spanish camp in the 
tierra caliente, and transport ourselves to the distant 
capital of Mexico, where no little sensation was excited 
by the arrival of the wonderful strangers on the coast. 
The Aztec throne was filled at that time by Montezuma 
the Second, nephew of the last, and grandson of a 
preceding monarch. He had been elected to the regal 
dignity in 1502, in preference to his brothers, for his 
superior qualifications both as a soldier and a priest, — 
a combination of offices sometimes found in the Mexican 
candidates, as it was more frequently in the Egyptian. 
In early youth he had taken an active part in the wars 
of the empire, though of late he had devoted himself 
more exclusively to the services of the temple ; and he 
was scrupulous in his attentions to all the burdensome 
ceremonial of the Aztec worship. He maintained a 
grave and reserved demeanor, speaking little and with 
prudent deliberation. His deportment was well calcu- 
lated to inspire ideas of superior sanctity. 1 

1 His name suited his nature; Montezuma, according to Las Casas, 
signifying, in the Mexican, " sad or severe man." Hist, de las Indias, 

(3° 2 ) 


When his election was announced to him, he was 
found sweeping down the stairs in the great temple of 
the national war-god. He received the messengers with 
a becoming humility, professing his unfitness for so re- 
sponsible a station. The address delivered as usual on 
the occasion was made by his relative Nezahualpilli, 
the wise king of Tezcuco. 2 It has, fortunately, been 
preserved, and presents a favorable specimen of Indian 
eloquence. Towards the conclusion, the orator ex- 
claims, "Who can doubt that the Aztec empire has 
reached the zenith of its greatness, since the Almighty 
has placed over it one whose very presence fills every 
beholder with reverence ? Rejoice, happy people, that 
you have now a sovereign who will be to you a steady 
column of support ; a father in distress, a more than 
brother in tenderness and sympathy ; one whose aspir- 
ing soul will disdain all the profligate pleasures of the 
senses and the wasting indulgence of sloth. And thou, 
illustrious youth, doubt not that the Creator, who has 
laid on thee so weighty a charge, will also give strength 
to sustain it ; that He, who has been so liberal in times 
past, will shower yet more abundant blessings on thy 
head, and keep thee firm in thy royal seat through 
many long and glorious years." These golden prog- 
nostics, which melted the royal auditor into tears, were 
not destined to be realized. 3 

MS., lib. 3, cap. 120. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 70. — 
Acosta, lib. 7, cap. 20. — Col. de Mendoza, pp. 13-16 ; Codex Te).- 
Rem., p. 143, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. vi. 

- For a full account of this prince, see Book I., chap. 6. 

3 The address is fully reported by Torquemada (Monarch. Ind., lib. 
3, cap. 68), who came into the country little more than half a century 
after its delivery. It has been recently republished by Bustamante. 
Tezcuco en los ultimos Tiempos (Mexico, 1826), pp. 256-258. 



Montezuma displayed all the energy and enterprise 
in the commencement of his reign which had been 
anticipated from him. His first expedition against a 
rebel province in the neighborhood was crowned with 
success, and he led back in triumph a throng of cap- 
tives for the bloody sacrifice that was to grace his coro- 
nation. This was celebrated with uncommon pomp. 
Games and religious ceremonies continued for several 
days, and among the spectators who flocked from dis- 
tant quarters were some noble Tlascalans, the hereditary 
enemies of Mexico. They were in disguise, hoping 
thus to elude detection. They were recognized, how- 
ever, and reported to the monarch. But he only 
availed himself of the information to provide them 
with honorable entertainment and a good place for 
witnessing the games. This was a magnanimous act, 
considering the long-cherished hostility between the 

In his first years, Montezuma was constantly engaged 
in war, and frequently led his armies in person. The 
Aztec banners were seen in the farthest provinces on 
the Gulf of Mexico, and the distant regions of Nica- 
ragua and Honduras. The expeditions were generally 
successful ; and the limits of the empire were more 
widely extended than at any preceding period. 

Meanwhile the monarch was not inattentive to the 
interior concerns of the kingdom. He made some im- 
portant changes in the courts of justice, and carefully 
watched over the execution of the laws, which he en- 
forced with stern severity. He was in the habit of 
patrolling the streets of his capital in disguise, to make 
himself personally acquainted with the abuses in it. 



And with more questionable policy, it is said, he would 
sometimes try the integrity of his judges by tempting 
them with large bribes to swerve from their duty, and 
then call the delinquent to strict account for yielding 
to the temptation. 

He liberally recompensed all who served him. He 
showed a similar munificent spirit in his public works, 
constructing and embellishing the temples, bringing 
water into the capital by a new channel, and establish- 
ing a hospital, or retreat for invalid soldiers, in the 
city of Colhuacan. 4 

These acts, so worthy of a great prince, were counter- 
balanced by others of an opposite complexion. The 
humility, displayed so ostentatiously before his eleva- 
tion, gave way to an intolerable arrogance. In his 
pleasure-houses, domestic establishment, and way of 
living, he assumed a pomp unknown to his predeces- 
sors. He secluded himself from public observation, 
or, when he went abroad, exacted the most slavish 
homage ; while in the palace he would be served only, 
even in the most menial offices, by persons of rank. 
He, further, dismissed several plebeians, chiefly poor 
soldiers of merit, from the places they had occupied 
near the person of his predecessor, considering their 
attendance a dishonor to royalty. It was in vain that 
his oldest and sagest counsellors remonstrated on a 
conduct so impolitic. 

While he thus disgusted his subjects by his haughty 
deportment, he alienated their affections by the impo- 

4 Acosta, lib. 7, cap. 22. — Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, lib. 8, 
Prologo, et cap. 1. — Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 3, cap. 73, 74, 
81. — Col. de Mendoza, pp. 14, 85, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. vi. 


sition of grievous taxes. These were demanded by the 
lavish expenditure of his court. They fell with peculiar 
heaviness on the conquered cities. This oppression 
led to frequent insurrection and resistance ; and the 
latter years of his reign present a scene of unintermit- 
ting hostility, in which the forces of one half of the 
empire were employed in suppressing the commotions 
of the other. Unfortunately, there was no principle 
of amalgamation by which the new acquisitions could 
be incorporated into the ancient monarchy as parts 
of one whole. Their interests, as well as sympathies, 
were different. Thus the more widely the Aztec em- 
pire was extended, the weaker it became ; resembling 
some vast and ill-proportioned edifice, whose disjointed 
materials, having no principle of cohesion, and totter- 
ing under their own weight, seem ready to fall before 
the first blast of the tempest. 

In 15 16 died the Tezcucan king, Nezahualpilli ; in 
whom Montezuma lost his most sagacious counsellor. 
The succession was contested by his two sons, Cacama 
and Ixtlilxochitl. The former was supported by Monte- 
zuma. The latter, the younger of the princes, a bold, 
aspiring youth, appealing to the patriotic sentiment of 
his nation, would have persuaded them that his brother 
was too much in the Mexican interests to be true to his 
own country. A civil war ensued, and ended by a 
compromise, by which one half of the kingdom, with 
the capital, remained to Cacama, and the northern por- 
tion to his ambitious rival. Ixtlilxochitl became from 
that time the mortal foe of Montezuma. 3 

s Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, torn. i. pp. 267, 274, 275. — Ixtlilxo- 
chitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 70-76. — Acosta, lib. 7, cap. 21. 



A more formidable enemy still was the little republic 
of Tlascala, lying midway between the Mexican Valley 
and the coast. It had maintained its independence 
for more than two centuries against the allied forces 
of the empire. Its resources were unimpaired, its 
civilization scarcely below that of its great rival states, 
and for courage and military prowess it had established 
a name inferior to none other of the nations of Anahuac. 

Such was the condition of the Aztec monarchy on 
the arrival of Cortes ; — the people disgusted with the 
arrogance of the sovereign ; the provinces and distant 
cities outraged by fiscal exactions ; while potent ene- 
mies in the neighborhood lay watching the hour when 
they might assail their formidable rival with advantage. 
Still the kingdom was strong in its internal resources, 
in the will of its monarch, in the long habitual defer- 
ence to his authority, — in short, in the terror of his 
name, and in the valor and discipline of his armies, 
grown gray in active service, and well drilled in all the 
tactics of Indian warfare. The time had now come 
when these imperfect tactics and rude weapons of the 
barbarian were to be brought into collision with the 
science and enginery of the most civilized nations of 
the globe. 

During the latter years of his reign, Montezuma had 
rarely taken part in his military expeditions, which he 
left to his captains, occupying himself chiefly with his 
sacerdotal functions. Under no prince had the priest- 
hood enjoyed greater consideration and immunities. 
The religious festivals and rites were celebrated with 
unprecedented pomp. The oracles were consulted on 
the most trivial occasions ; and the sanguinary deities 


were propitiated by hecatombs of victims dragged in 
triumph to the capital from the conquered or rebellious 
provinces. The religion, or, to speak correctly, the 
superstition of Montezuma proved a principal cause of 
his calamities. 

In a preceding chapter I have noticed the popular 
traditions respecting Quetzalcoatl, that deity with a 
fair complexion and flowing beard, so unlike the Indian 
physiognomy, who, after fulfilling his mission of benev- 
olence among the Aztecs, embarked on the Atlantic 
Sea for the mysterious shores of Tlapallan. 6 He prom- 
ised, on his departure, to return at some future day 
with his posterity, and resume the possession of his 
empire. That day was looked forward to with hope 
or with apprehension, according to the interest of the 
believer, but with general confidence, throughout the 
wide borders of Anahuac. Even after the Conquest it 
still lingered among the Indian races, by whom it was 
as fondly cherished as the advent of their king Sebas- 
tian continued to be by the Portuguese, or that of the 
Messiah by the Jews. 7 

A general feeling seems to have prevailed in the time 
of Montezuma that the period for the return of the 
deity and the full accomplishment of his promise was 
near at hand. This conviction is said to have gained 
ground from various preternatural occurrences, reported 
with more or less detail by all the most ancient histo- 

6 Ante, Book I., chap. 3, pp. 60, 61, and note 6. 

7 Tezozomoc, Cron. Mexicana, MS., cap. 107. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. 
Chich., MS., cap. 1. — Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 14; 
lib. 6, cap. 24. — Codex Vaticanus, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. vi. — 
Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espaiia, lib. 8, cap. 7. — Ibid., MS., lib. 12, 
cap. 3, 4. 



rians. 8 In 15 10 the great lake of Tezcuco, without 
the occurrence of a tempest, or earthquake, or any 
other visible cause, became violently agitated, over- 
flowed its banks, and, pouring into the streets of Mex- 
ico, swept off many of the buildings by the fury of the 
waters. In 15 n one of the turrets of the great temple 
took fire, equally without any apparent cause, and con- 
tinued to burn in defiance of all attempts to extinguish 
it. In the following years, three comets were seen ; 
and not long before the coming of the Spaniards a 
strange light broke forth in the east. It spread broad 
at its base on the horizon, and rising in a pyramidal 
form tapered off as it approached the zenith. It re- 
sembled a vast sheet or flood of fire, emitting sparkles, 
or, as an old writer expresses it, "seemed thickly 
powdered with stars." 9 At the same time, low voices 
were heard in the air, and doleful wailings, as if to 
announce some strange, mysterious calamity ! The 
Aztec monarch, terrified at the apparitions in the 
heavens, took counsel of Nezahualpilli, who was a great 
proficient in the subtle science of astrology. But the 
royal sage cast a deeper cloud over his spirit by reading 
in these prodigies the speedy downfall of the empire. 10 

8 " Tenia por cierto," says Las Casas of Montezuma, " segun sus 
prophetas 6 agoreros le avian certificado, que su estado e rriquezas y 
prosperidad avia de perezer dentro de pocos anos por ciertas gentes 
que avian de venir en sus dias, que de su felicidad lo derrocase, y por 
esto vivia siempre con temor y en tristeca y sobresaltado." Hist, de 
las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 120. 

9 Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. — The Interpreter of the Codex 
Tel.-Rem. intimates that this scintillating phenomenon was probably 
nothing more than an eruption of one of the great volcanoes of Mex- 
ico. Antiq. of Mexico, vol. vi. p. 144. 

10 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, MS., lib. 12, cap. 1. — Ca- 



Such are the strange stories reported by the chron- 
iclers, in which it is not impossible to detect the glim- 
merings of truth." Nearly thirty years had elapsed 
since the discovery of the Islands by Columbus, and 
more than twenty since his visit to the American 
continent. Rumors, more or less distinct, of this 
wonderful appearance of the white men, bearing in 
their hands the thunder and the lightning, so like in 
many respects to the traditions of Quetzalcoatl, would 
naturally spread far and wide among the Indian nations. 
Such rumors, doubtless, long before the landing of the 
Spaniards in Mexico, found their way up the grand 
plateau, filling the minds of men with anticipations 
of the near coming of the period when the great deity 
was to return and receive his own again. 

In the excited state of their imaginations, prodigies 
became a familiar occurrence. Or rather, events not 
very uncommon in themselves, seen through the dis- 
colored medium of fear, were easily magnified into 
prodigies ; and the accidental swell of the lake, the 
appearance of a comet, and the conflagration of a 
building were all interpreted as the special annuncia- 
tions of Heaven." Thus it happens in those great 

margo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. — Acosta, lib. 7, cap. 23. — Herrera, 
Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 5, cap. 5. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., 
cap. 74. 

11 I omit the most extraordinary miracle of all, — though legal attes- 
tations of its truth were furnished the court of Rome (see Clavigero, 
Stor. del Messico, torn. i. p. 289), — namely, the resurrection of Monte- 
zuma's sister, Papantzin, four days after her burial, to warn the mon- 
arch of the approaching rain of his empire. It finds credit with one 
writer, at least, in the nineteenth century! See the note of Sahagun's 
Mexican editor, Bustamante, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, torn. ii. p. 270. 

12 Lucan gives a fine enumeration of such prodigies witnessed in 


3 11 

political convulsions which shake the foundations of 
society, — the mighty events that cast their shadows 
before them in their coming. Then it is that the 
atmosphere is agitated with the low, prophetic mur- 
murs with which Nature, in the moral as in the physi- 
cal world, announces the march of the hurricane : 

" When from the shores 
And forest-rustling mountains comes a voice, 
That, solemn sounding, bids the world prepare!" 

When tidings were brought to the capital of the land- 
ing of Grijalva on the coast, in the preceding year, the 
heart of Montezuma was filled with dismay. He felt 
as if the destinies which had so long brooded over the 
royal line of Mexico were to be accomplished, and the 
sceptre was to pass away from his house forever. 
Though somewhat relieved by the departure of the 
Spaniards, he caused sentinels to be stationed on the 
heights ; and, when the Europeans returned under 
Cortes, he doubtless received the earliest notice of the 
unwelcome event. It was by his orders, however, that 
the provincial governor had prepared so hospitable a 
reception for them. The hieroglyphical report of these 
strange visitors, now forwarded to the capital, revived 
all his apprehensions. He called, without delay, a 
meeting of his principal counsellors, including the 

the Roman capital in a similar excitement. (Pharsalia, lib. i, v. 523, 
et seq.) Poor human nature is much the same everywhere. Machia- 
velli has thought the subject worthy of a separate chapter in his Dis- 
courses. The philosopher even intimates a belief in the existence of 
beneficent intelligences who send these portents as a sort of premoni- 
tories, to warn mankind of the coming tempest. Discorsi sopra Tito 
Livio, lib. 1, cap. 56. 



kings of Tezcuco and Tlacopan, and laid the matter 
before them. 13 

There seems to have been much division of opinion 
in that body. Some were for resisting the strangers 
at once, whether by fraud or by open force. Others 
contended that, if they were supernatural beings, fraud 
and force would be alike useless. If they were, as they 
pretended, ambassadors from a foreign prince, such a 
policy would be cowardly and unjust. That they were 
not of the family of Quetzalcoatl was argued from the 
fact that they had shown themselves hostile to his 
religion ; for tidings of the proceedings of the Span- 
iards in Tabasco, it seems, had already reached the 
capital. Among those in favor of giving them a 
friendly and honorable reception was the Tezcucan 
king, Cacama. 

But Montezuma, taking counsel of his own ill-defined 
apprehensions, preferred a half-way course, — as usual, 
the most impolitic. He resolved to send an embassy, 
with such a magnificent present to the strangers as 
should impress them with high ideas of his grandeur 
and resources ; while at the same time he would forbid 
their approach to the capital. This was to reveal at 
once both his wealth and his weakness. 14 

While the Aztec court was thus agitated by the arrival 
of the Spaniards, they were passing their time in the 
tierra caliente, not a little annoyed by the excessive 

»3 Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 120. — Ixtlilxo- 
chitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 80. — Idem, Relaciones, MS. — Sahagun, 
Hist, de Nueva-Espafia, MS., lib. 12, cap. 3, 4. — Tezozomoc, Cron. 
Mexicana, MS., cap. 108. 

M Tezozomoc, Cron. Mexicana, MS., loc. cit. — Camargo, Hist, de 
Tlascala, MS.-Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 80. 


3 1 3 

heats and suffocating atmosphere of the sandy waste on 
which they were encamped. They experienced every 
alleviation that could be derived from the attentions 
of the friendly natives. These, by the governor's 
command, had constructed more than a thousand huts 
or booths of branches and matting, which they occupied 
in the neighborhood of the camp. Here they prepared 
various articles of food for the tables of Cortes and his 
officers, without any recompense ; while the common 
soldiers easily obtained a supply for themselves, in ex- 
change for such trifles as they brought with them for 
barter. Thus the camp was liberally provided with 
meat and fish dressed in many savory ways, with cakes 
of corn, bananas, pine-apples, and divers luscious vege- 
tables of the tropics, hitherto unknown to the Span- 
iards. The soldiers contrived, moreover, to obtain 
many little bits of gold, of no great value, indeed, 
from the natives ; a traffic very displeasing to the par- 
tisans of Velasquez, who considered it an invasion of 
his rights. Cortes, however, did not think it pru- 
dent, in this matter, to balk the inclinations of his 
followers. 13 

At the expiration of seven, or eight days at most, the 
Mexican embassy presented itself before the camp. It 
may seem an incredibly short space of time, consider- 
ing the distance of the capital was near seventy leagues. 
But it may be remembered that tidings were carried 
there by means of posts, as already noticed, in the 
brief space of four-and-twenty hours ; l6 and four or five 

*5 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 39. — Gomara, Cronica, 
cap. 27, ap. Barcia, torn. ii. 
16 Ante, Book i, chap. 2, p. 44. 
Vol. I. — o 27 


days would suffice for the descent of the envoys to the 
coast, accustomed as the Mexicans were to long and 
rapid travelling. At all events, no writer states the 
period occupied by the Indian emissaries on this occa- 
sion as longer than that mentioned. 

The embassy, consisting of two Aztec nobles, was 
accompanied by the governor, Teuhtlile, and by a 
hundred slaves, bearing the princely gifts of Mon- 
tezuma. One of the envoys had been selected on 
account of the great resemblance which, as appeared 
from the painting representing the camp, he bore to 
the Spanish commander. And it is a proof of the 
fidelity of the painting, that the soldiers recognized 
the resemblance, and always distinguished the chief by 
the name of the "Mexican Cortes." 

On entering the general's pavilion, the ambassadors 
saluted him and his officers with the usual signs of 
reverence to persons of great consideration, touching 
the ground with their hands and then carrying them 
to their heads, while the air was filled with clouds of 
incense, which rose up from the censers borne by their 
attendants. Some delicately wrought mats of the 
country {petates) were then unrolled, and on them the 
slaves displayed the various articles they had brought. 
They were of the most miscellaneous kind : shields, 
helmets, cuirasses, embossed with plates and ornaments 
of pure gold ; collars and bracelets of the same metal, 
sandals, fans, panaches and crests of variegated feathers, 
intermingled with gold and silver thread, and sprinkled 
with pearls and precious stones ; imitations of birds 
and animals in wrought and cast gold and silver, of 
exquisite workmanship ; curtains, coverlets, and robes 



of cotton, fine as silk, of rich and various dyes, in- 
terwoven with feather-work that rivalled the delicacy 
of painting. 17 There were more than thirty loads of 
cotton cloth in addition. Among the articles was the 
Spanish helmet sent to the capital, and now returned 
filled to the brim with grains of gold. But the things 
which excited the most admiration were two circular 
plates of gold and silver, "as large as carriage-wheels." 
One, representing the sun, was richly carved with plants 
and animals, — no doubt, denoting the Aztec century. 
It was thirty palms in circumference, and was valued at 
twenty thousand pesos de oro. The silver wheel, of the 
same size, weighed fifty marks.* 8 

J 7 From the checkered figure of some of these colored cottons, 
Peter Martyr infers, the Indians were acquainted with chess 1 He 
notices a curious fabric made of the hair of animals, feathers, and 
cotton thread, interwoven together. " Plumas illas et concinnant inter 
cuniculorum villos interque gosampij stamina ordiuntur, et intexunt 
operose adeo, ut quo pacto id faciant non bene intellexerimus." De 
Orbe Novo (Parisiis, 1587), dec. 5, cap. 10. 

18 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 39. — Oviedo, Hist, de 
las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 1. — Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., 
lib. 3, cap. 120. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 27, ap. Barcia, torn. ii. — Carta 
de Vera Cruz, MS. — Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 5, cap. 5. — 
Robertson cites Bernal Diaz as reckoning the value of the silver plate 
at 20,000 pesos, or about ^5000. (History of America, vol. ii. note 
75.) But Bernal Diaz speaks only of the value of the gold plate, 
which he estimates at 20,000 pesos de oro, different from the pesos, 
dollars, or ounces of silver, \\ ith which the historian confounds them. 
As the mention of the peso de oro will often recur in these pages, 
it will be well to make the reader acquainted with its probable value. 
Nothing is more difficult than to ascertain the actual value of the 
currency of a distant age; so many circumstances occur to embar- 
rass the calculation, besides the general depreciation of the precious 
metals, such as the adulteration of specific coins, and the like. 
Sefior Clemencin, the Secretary of the Royal Academy of History, in 



The Spaniards could not conceal their rapture at the 
exhibition of treasures which so far surpassed all the 
dreams in which they had indulged. For, rich as were 
the materials, they were exceeded — according to the 
testimony of those who saw these articles afterwards in 
Seville, where they could coolly examine them — by the 
beauty and richness of the workmanship. 19 

the sixth volume of its Memorias, has computed with great accuracy 
the value of the different denominations of the Spanish currency at 
the close of the fifteenth century, the period just preceding that of the 
conquest of Mexico. He makes no mention of the peso de oro in his 
tables. But he ascertains the precise value of the gold ducat, which 
will answer our purpose as well. (Memorias de la Real Academia de 
Historia (Madrid, 1821), torn. vi. Ilust. 20.) Oviedo, a contemporary 
of the Conquerors, informs us that the peso de oro and the castellano 
were of the same value, and that was precisely one-third greater than 
the value of the ducat. (Hist, del Ind., lib. 6, cap. 8, ap. Ramusio, 
Navigationi et Viaggi (Venetia, 1565), torn, iii.) Now, the ducat, as 
appears from Clemencin, reduced to our own currency, would be equal 
to eight dollars and seventy-five cents. The peso de oro, therefore, 
was equal to eleven dollars and sixty-seven cents, or two pounds, twelve 
shillings, and sixpence sterling. Keeping this in mind, it will be easy 
for the reader to determine the actual value, in pesos de oro, of any 
sum that may be hereafter mentioned. 

J 9 "1 Cierto cosas de ver !" exclaims Las Casas, who saw them with 
the Emperor Charles V. in Seville, in 1520. " Quedaron todos los que 
vieron aquestas cosas tan ricas y tan bien artificiadas y ermosisimas 
como de cosas nunca vistas," etc. (Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, 
cap. 120.) " Muy hermosas," says Oviedo, who saw them in Valla- 
dolid, and describes the great wheels more minutely; " todo era 
muchodever!" (Hist, de las Indias, MS., loc. cit.) The inquisitive 
Martyr, who examined them carefully, remarks, yet more emphat- 
ically, " Si quid unquam honoris humana ingenia in huiuscemodi arti- 
bus sunt adepta, principatum iure merito ista consequentur. Aurum, 
gemmasque non admiror quidem, qua. industria, quove studio superet 
opus materiam, stupeo. Mille figuras et facies mille prospexi quae 
scribere nequeo. Quid oculos hominum sua. pulchritudine aeque possit 
allicere meo iudicio vidi nunquam." De Orbe Novo, dec. 4, cap. 9. 


3 X 7 

When Cortes and his officers had completed their 
survey, the ambassadors courteously delivered the mes- 
sage of Montezuma. "It gave their master great pleas- 
ure," they said, " to hold this communication with so 
powerful a monarch as the King of Spain, for whom 
he felt the most profound respect. He regretted much 
that he could not enjoy a personal interview with the 
Spaniards, but the distance of his capital was too great; 
since the journey was beset with difficulties, and with 
too many dangers from formidable enemies, to make it 
possible. All that could be done, therefore, was for 
the strangers to return to their own land, with the 
proofs thus afforded them of his friendly disposition." 

Cortes, though much chagrined at this decided re- 
fusal of Montezuma to admit his visit, concealed his 
mortification as he best might, and politely expressed 
his sense of the emperor's munificence. "It made 
him only the more desirous," he said, " to have a per- 
sonal interview with him. He should feel it, indeed, 
impossible to present himself again before his own 
sovereign, without having accomplished this great ob- 
ject of his voyage ; and one who had sailed over two 
thousand leagues of ocean held lightly the perils and 
fatigues of so short a journey by land." He once 
more requested them to become the bearers of his mes- 
sage to their master, together with a slight additional 
token of his respect. 

This consisted of a few fine Holland shirts, a Flor- 
entine goblet, gilt and somewhat curiously enamelled, 
with some toys of little value, — a sorry return for the 
solid magnificence of the royal present. The ambas- 
sadors may have thought as much. At least, they 



showed no alacrity in charging themselves either with 
the present or the message, and, on quitting the Castil- 
ian quarters, repeated their assurance that the general's 
application would be unavailing. 20 

The splendid treasure, which now lay dazzling the 
eyes of the Spaniards, raised in their bosoms very dif- 
ferent emotions, according to the difference of their 
characters. Some it stimulated with the ardent desire to 
strike at once into the interior and possess themselves 
of a country which teemed with such boundless stores 
of wealth. Others looked on it as the evidence of a 
power altogether too formidable to be encountered 
with their present insignificant force. They thought, 
therefore, it would be most prudent to return and re- 
port their proceedings to the governor of Cuba, where 
preparations could be made commensurate with so vast 
an undertaking. There can be little doubt as to the 
impression made on the bold spirit of Cortes, on which 
difficulties ever operated as incentives, rather than 
discouragements, to enterprise. But he prudently said 
nothing, — at least in public, — preferring that so impor- 
tant a movement should flow from the determination 
of his whole army, rather than from his own individual 

Meanwhile the soldiers suffered greatly from the 
inconveniences of their position amidst burning sands 
and the pestilent effluvia of the neighboring marshes, 
while the venomous insects of these hot regions left 
them no repose, day or night. Thirty of their number 

20 Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 121. — Bernal 
Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 39. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., 
cap. 80. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 27, ap. Barcia, torn. ii. 



had already sickened and died ; a loss that could ill be 
afforded by the little band. To add to their troubles, 
the coldness of the Mexican chiefs had extended to 
their followers; and the supplies for the camp were 
not only much diminished, but the prices set on them 
were exorbitant. The position was equally unfavorable 
for the shipping, which lay in an open roadstead, 
exposed to the fury of the first norte which should 
sweep the Mexican Gulf. 

The general was induced by these circumstances to 
despatch two vessels, under Francisco de Montejo, with 
the experienced Alaminos for his pilot, to explore the 
coast in a northerly direction, and see if a safer port 
and more commodious quarters for the army could not 
be found there. 

After the lapse of ten days the Mexican envoys re- 
turned. They entered the Spanish quarters with the 
same formality as on the former visit, bearing with 
them an additional present of rich stuffs and metallic 
ornaments, which, though inferior in value to those 
before brought, were estimated at three thousand ounces 
of gold. Besides these, there were four precious stones, 
of a considerable size, resembling emeralds, called by 
the natives chalc Indies, each of which, as they assured 
the Spaniards, was worth more than a load of gold, 
and was designed as a mark of particular respect for 
the Spanish monarch. 21 Unfortunately, they were not 
worth as many loads of earth in Europe. 

21 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 40. — Father Sahagun 
thus describes these stones, so precious in Mexico that the use of 
them was interdicted to any but the nobles : " The chalchuites are of 
a green color mixed with white, and are not transparent. They are 



Montezuma's answer was in substance the same as 
before. It contained a positive prohibition for the 
strangers to advance nearer to the capital, and ex- 
pressed his confidence that, now they had obtained 
what they had most desired, they would return to their 
own country without unnecessary delay. Cortes re- 
ceived this unpalatable response courteously, though 
somewhat coldly, and, turning to his officers, exclaimed, 
"This is a rich and powerful prince indeed; yet it 
shall go hard but we will one day pay him a visit in 
his capital !" 

While they were conversing, the bell struck for ves- 
pers. At the sound, the soldiers, throwing themselves 
on their knees, offered up their orisons before the large 
wooden cross planted in the sands. As the Aztec chiefs 
gazed with curious surprise, Cortes thought it a favor- 
able occasion to impress them with what he conceived 
to be a principal object of his visit to the country. 
Father Olmedo accordingly expounded, as briefly and 
clearly as he could, the great doctrines of Christianity, 
touching on the atonement, the passion, and the resur- 
rection, and concluding with assuring his astonished 
audience that it was their intention to extirpate the 
idolatrous practices of the nation and to substitute the 
pure worship of the true God. He then put into their 
hands a little image of the Virgin with the infant Re- 
deemer, requesting them to place it in their temples 
instead of their sanguinary deities. How far the Aztec 
lords comprehended the mysteries of the faith, as con- 
much worn by persons of rank, and, attached to the wrist by a thread, 
are a token of the nobility of the wearer.' Hist, de Nueva-Espana, 
lib. ii, cap. 8. 



veyed through the double version of Aguilar and Ma- 
rina, or how well they perceived the subtle distinctions 
between their own images and those of the Roman 
Church, we are not informed. There is reason to fear, 
however, that the seed fell on barren ground ; for, when 
the homily of the good father ended, they withdrew 
with an air of dubious reserve very different from 
their friendly manners at the first interview. The same 
night every hut was deserted by the natives, and 
the Spaniards saw themselves suddenly cut off from 
supplies in the midst of a desolate wilderness. The 
movement had so suspicious an appearance that Cortes 
apprehended an attack would be made on his quarters, 
and took precautions accordingly. But none was 

The army was at length cheered by the return of 
Montejo from his exploring expedition, after an ab- 
sence of twelve days. He had run down the Gulf as 
far as Panuco, where he experienced such heavy gales, 
in attempting to double that headland, that he was 
driven back, and had nearly foundered. In the whole 
course of the voyage he had found only one place tol- 
erably sheltered from the north winds. Fortunately, 
the adjacent country, well watered by fresh, running 
streams, afforded a favorable position for the camp ; 
and thither, after some deliberation, it was determined 
to repair." 

22 Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. — Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, 
MS., lib. 3, cap. 121. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 40, 41. 
— Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 5, cap. 6. — Gomara, Cronica, 
cap. 29, ap. Barcia, torn. ii. 







There is no situation which tries so severely the 
patience and discipline of the soldier as a life of idle- 
ness in camp, where his thoughts, instead of being bent 
on enterprise and action, are fastened on himself and 
the inevitable privations and dangers of his condition. 
This was particularly the case in the present instance, 
where, in addition to the evils of a scanty subsistence, 
the troops suffered from excessive heat, swarms of 
venomous insects, and the other annoyances of a sultry 
climate. They were, moreover, far from possessing 
the character of regular forces, trained to subordination 
under a commander whom they had long been taught 
to reverence and obey. They were soldiers of fortune, 
embarked with him in an adventure in which all 
seemed to have an equal stake, and they regarded their 
captain — the captain of a day — as little more than an 

There was a growing discontent among the men at 
their longer residence in this strange land. They were 
still more dissatisfied on learning the general's inten- 
tion to remove to the neighborhood of the port dis- 


3 2 3 

covered by Montejo. "It was time to return," they 
said, "and report what had been done to the governor 
of Cuba, and not linger on these barren shores until 
they had brought the whole Mexican empire on their 
heads !" Cortes evaded their importunities as well as 
he could, assuring them there was no cause for despond- 
ency. "Everything so far had gone on prosperously, 
and, when they had taken up a more favorable position, 
there was no reason to doubt they might still continue 
the same profitable intercourse with the natives." 

While this was passing, five Indians made their ap- 
pearance in the camp one morning, and were brought 
to the general's tent. Their dress and whole appear- 
ance were different from those of the Mexicans. They 
wore rings of gold, and gems of bright blue stone in 
their ears and nostrils, while a gold leaf delicately 
wrought was attached to the under lip. Marina was 
unable to comprehend their language, but, on her 
addressing them in Aztec, two of them, it was found, 
could converse in that tongue. They said they were 
natives of Cempoalla, the chief town of the Totonacs, 
a powerful nation who had come upon the great plateau 
many centuries back, and, descending its eastern slope, 
settled along the sierras and broad plains which skirt 
the Mexican Gulf towards the north. Their country 
was one of the recent conquests of the Aztecs, and 
they experienced such vexatious oppressions from their 
conquerors as made them very impatient of the yoke. 
They informed Cortes of these and other particulars. 
The fame of the Spaniards had reached their master, 
who sent these messengers to request the presence of 
the wonderful strangers in his capital. 

3 2 4 


This communication was eagerly listened to by the 
general, who, it will be remembered, was possessed of 
none of those facts, laid before the reader, respecting 
the internal condition of the kingdom, which he had 
no reason to suppose other than strong and united. 
An important truth now flashed on his mind, as his 
quick eye descried in this spirit of discontent a potent 
lever, by the aid of which he might hope to oveiturn 
this barbaric empire. He received the mission of the 
Totonacs most graciously, and, after informing him- 
self, as far as possible, of their dispositions and re- 
sources, dismissed them with presents, promising soon 
to pay a visit to their lord. 1 

Meanwhile, his personal friends, among whom may 
be particularly mentioned Alonso Hernandez Puerto- 
carrero, Cristobal de Olid, Alonso de Avila, Pedro de 
Alvarado and his brothers, were very busy in persuad- 
ing the troops to take such measures as should enable 
Cortes to go forward in those ambitious plans for which 
he had no warrant from the powers of Velasquez. "To 
return now," they said, "was to abandon the enter- 
prise on the threshold, which, under such a leader, must 
conduct to glory and incalculable riches. To return to 
Cuba would be to surrender to the greedy governor the 
little gains they had already got. The only way was 
to persuade the general to establish a permanent colony 
in the country, the government of which would take 
the conduct of matters into its own hands and provide 
for the interests of its members. It was true, Cortes 
had no such authority from Velasquez. But the in- 

1 Bemal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 41. — Las Casas, Hist, de 
las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 121. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 28. 


3 2 5 

terests of the sovereigns, which were paramount to 
every other, imperatively demanded it." 

These conferences could not be conducted so secretly, 
though held by night, as not to reach the ears of the 
friends of Velasquez. 2 They remonstrated against the 
proceedings, as insidious and disloyal. They accused 
the general of instigating them, and, calling on him to 
take measures without delay for the return of the troops 
to Cuba, announced their own intention to depart, with 
such followers as still remained true to the governor. 

Cortes, instead of taking umbrage at this high-handed 
proceeding, or even answering in the same haughty tone, 
mildly replied "that nothing was further from his desire 
than to exceed his instructions. He, indeed, preferred 
to remain in the country, and continue his profitable 
intercourse with the natives. But, since the army 
thought otherwise, he should defer to their opinion, 
and give orders to return, as they desired." On the 
following morning, proclamation was made for the 
troops to hold themselves in readiness to embark at 
once on board the fleet, which was to sail for Cuba. 3 

Great was the sensation caused by their general's 
order. Even many of those before clamorous for it, 

2 The letter from the cabildo of Vera Cruz says nothing of these 
midnight conferences. Bernal Diaz, who was privy to them, is a 
sufficient authority. See Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 42. 

3 Gomara, Cronica, cap. 30. — Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., 
lib. 3, cap. 121. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 80. — Bernal 
Diaz, Ibid.,loc. cit. — Declaracion de Puertocarrero, MS. — The deposi- 
tion of a respectable person like Puertocarrero, taken in the spring 
of the following year, after his return to Spain, is a document of such 
authority that I have transferred it entire, in the original, to the 
Appendix, Part 2, No. 7. 

Vol. I.— 28 


with the usual caprice of men whose wishes are too 
easily gratified, .now regretted it. The partisans of 
Cortes were loud in their remonstrances. "They were 
betrayed by the general," they cried, and, thronging 
round his tent, called on him to countermand his 
orders. "We came here," said they, "expecting to 
form a settlement, if the state of the country authorized 
it. Now it seems you have no warrant from the gov- 
ernor to make one. But there are interests, higher 
than those of Velasquez, which demand it. These 
territories are not his property, but were discovered for 
the sovereigns;' 4 and it is necessary to plant a colony 
to watch over their interests, instead of wasting time 
in idle barter, or, still worse, of returning, in the pres- 
ent state of affairs, to Cuba. If you refuse, ' ' they con- 
cluded, "we shall protest against your conduct as dis- 
loyal to their Highnesses." 

Cortes received this remonstrance with the embar- 
rassed air of one by whom it was altogether unexpected. 
He modestly requested time for deliberation, and 
promised to give his answer on the following day. At 
the time appointed, he called the troops together, and 
made them a brief address. " There was no one," he 

4 Sometimes we find the Spanish writers referring to " the sover- 
eigns," sometimes to "the emperor;" in the former case intending 
Queen Joanna, the crazy mother of Charles V., as well as himself. 
Indeed, all public acts and ordinances ran in the name of both. The 
title of " Highness," which until the reign of Charles V. had usually 
— not uniformly, as Robertson imagines (History of Charles V., vol. 
ii. p. 59) — been applied to the sovereign, now gradually gave way to 
that of " Majesty," which Charles affected after his election to the 
imperial throne. The same title is occasionally found in the corre- 
spondence of the Great Captain, and other courtiers of the reign of 
Ferdinand and Isabella. 


said, " if he knew his own heart, more deeply devoted 
than himself to the welfare of his sovereigns and the 
glory of the Spanish name. He had not only ex- 
pended his all, but incurred heavy debts, to meet the 
charges of this expedition, and had hoped to reimburse 
himself by continuing his traffic with the Mexicans. 
But, if the soldiers thought a different course advisable, 
he was ready to postpone his own advantage to the 
good of the state. "~ 5 He concluded by declaring his 
willingness to take measures for settling a colony in 
the name of the Spanish sovereigns, and to nominate 
a magistracy to preside over it. 6 

For the alcaldes he selected Puertocarrero and Mon- 
tejo, the former cavalier his fast friend, and the latter 
the friend of Velasquez, and chosen for that very 
reason ; a stroke of policy which perfectly succeeded. 
The regidores, alguacil, treasurer, and other function- 
aries were then appointed, all of them his personal 
friends and adherents. They were regularly sworn into 

5 According to Robertson, Cortes told his men that he had proposed 
to establish a colony on the coast, before marching into the country ; 
but he abandoned his design, at their entreaties to set out at once on 
the expedition. In the very next page we find him organizing this 
same colony. (History of America, vol. ii. pp. 241, 242.) The his- 
torian would have been saved this inconsistency, if he had followed 
either of the authorities whom he cites, Bernal Diaz and Herrera, or 
the letter from Vera Cruz, of which he had a copy. They all concur 
in the statement in the text. 

6 Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 122. — Carta de 
Vera Cruz, MS. — Declaracion de Montejo, MS. — Declaracion de Puer- 
tocarrero, MS. — " Our general, after some urging, acquiesced," says 
the blunt old soldier Bernal Diaz ; " for, as the proverb says, ' You ask 
me to do what I have already made up my mind to.' " Tu me to 
rucgas, e yo me to quiero. Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 42. 


office, and the new city received the title of Villa Rica 
de Vera Cruz, "The Rich Town of the True Cross;" 
a name which was considered as happily intimating 
that union of spiritual and temporal interests to which 
the arms of the Spanish adventurers in the New World 
were to be devoted. 7 Thus, by a single stroke of the 
pen, as it were, the camp was transformed into a civil 
community, and the whole frame-work and even title 
of the city were arranged, before ' the site of it had 
been settled. 

The new municipality were not slow in coming 
together ; when Cortes presented himself, cap in hand, 
before that august body, and, laying the powers of 
Velasquez on the table, respectfully tendered the resig- 
nation of his office of Captain-General, "which, 
indeed," he said, "had necessarily expired, since the 
authority of the governor was now superseded by that 
of the magistracy of Villa Rica de Vera Cruz." He 
then, with a profound obeisance, left the apartment. 8 

The council, after a decent time spent in delibera- 
tion, again requested his presence. "There was no 
one," they said, "who, on mature reflection, appeared 

7 According to Bernal Diaz, the title of " Vera Cruz" was intended 
to commemorate their landing on Good Friday. Hist, de la Con- 
quista, cap. 42. 

8 Soli's, whose taste for speech-making might have satisfied even the 
Abbe Mably (see his Treatise, " De la Maniere d'ecrire l'Histoire"), 
has put a very flourishing harangue on this occasion into the mouth 
of his hero, of which there is not a vestige in any contemporary 
account. (Conquista, lib. 2, cap. 7.) Dr. Robertson has transferred 
it to his own eloquent pages, without citing his author, indeed, who, 
considering he came a century and a half after the Conquest, must 
be allowed to be not the best, especially when the only, voucher for 
a fact. 



to them so well qualified to take charge of the interests 
of the community, both in peace and in war, as him- 
self; and they unanimously named him, in behalf of 
their Catholic Highnesses, Captain-General and Chief 
Justice of the colony." He was further empowered 
to draw, on his own account, one-fifth of the gold and 
silver which might hereafter be obtained by commerce 
or conquest from the natives. 9 Thus clothed with 
supreme civil and military jurisdiction, Cortes was not 
backward in asserting his authority. He found speedy 
occasion for it. 

The transactions above described had succeeded each 
other so rapidly that the governor's party seemed to be 
taken by surprise, and had formed no plan of opposi- 
tion. When the last measure was carried, however, 
they broke forth into the most indignant and oppro- 
brious invectives, denouncing the whole as a systematic 
conspiracy against Velasquez. These accusations led 
to recrimination from the soldiers of the other side, 
until from words they nearly proceeded to blows. 
Some of the principal cavaliers, among them Velas- 
quez de Leon, a kinsman of the governor, Escobar, 
his page, and Diego de Ordaz, were so active in in- 
stigating these turbulent movements that Cortes took 
the bold measure of putting them all in irons and 
sending them on board the vessels. He then dispersed 
the common file by detaching many of them with a 

9 " Lo peor de todo que le otorgdmos," says Bernal Diaz, somewhat 
peevishly, was, " que le dariamos el quinto del oro de lo que se huui- 
esse, despues de sacado el Real quinto." (Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 
42.) The letter from Vera Cruz says nothing of this fifth. The 
reader who would see the whole account of this remarkable transac- 
tion in the original may find it in the Appendix, Part 2, No. 8. 



strong party under Alvarado to forage the neighboring 
country and bring home provisions for the destitute 

During their absence, every argument that cupidity 
or ambition could suggest was used to win the refrac- 
tory to his views. Promises, and even gold, it is said, 
were liberally lavished ; till, by degrees, their under- 
standings were opened to a clearer view of the merits 
of the case. And when the foraging party reappeared 
with abundance of poultry and vegetables, and the 
cravings of the stomach — that great laboratory of dis- 
affection, whether in camp or capital — were appeased, 
good humor returned with good cheer, and the rival 
factions embraced one another as companions in arms, 
pledged to a common cause. Even the high-mettled 
hidalgos on board the vessels did not long withstand 
the general tide of reconciliation, but one by one gave 
in their adhesion to the new government. What is 
more remarkable is that this forced conversion was 
not a hollow one, but from this time forward several 
of these very cavaliers became the most steady and 
devoted partisans of Cortes. 10 

10 Carta de Vera Cruz, MS. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 30, 31. — Las 
Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 122. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. 
Chich., MS., cap. 80. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 42. — 
Declaraciones de Montejo y Puertocarrero, MSS. — In the process of 
Narvaez against Cortes, the latter is accused of being possessed with 
the Devil, as only Lucifer could have thus gained him the affections 
of the soldiery. (Demanda de Narvaez, MS.) Solis, on the othei 
hand, sees nothing but good faith and loyalty in the conduct of the 
general, who acted from a sense of duty ! (Conquista, lib. 2, cap. 6, 
7.) Solis is even a more steady apologist for his hero than his own 
chaplain, Gomara, or the worthy magistrates of Vera Cruz. A more 
impartial testimony than either, probably, may be gathered from 



Such was the address of this extraordinary man, and 
such the ascendency which in a few months he had 
acquired over these wild and turbulent spirits ! By 
this ingenious transformation of a military into a civil 
community, he had secured a new and effectual basis 
for future operations. He might now go forward with- 
out fear of check or control from a superior, — at least 
from any other superior than the crown, under which 
alone he held his commission. In accomplishing this, 
instead of incurring the charge of usurpation or of 
transcending his legitimate powers, he had transferred 
the responsibility, in a great measure, to those who had 
imposed on him the necessity of action. By this step, 
moreover, he had linked the fortunes of his followers 
indissolubly with his own. They had taken their 
chance with him, and, whether for weal or for woe, 
must abide the consequences. He was no longer lim- 
ited to the narrow concerns of a sordid traffic, but, 
sure of their co-operation, might now boldly meditate, 
and gradually disclose, those lofty schemes which he 
had formed in his own bosom for the conquest of an 

Harmony being thus restored, Cortes sent his heavy 
guns on board the fleet, and ordered it to coast along 

honest Bernal Diaz, so often quoted. A hearty champion of the 
cause, he was by no means blind to the defects or the merits of his 

" This may appear rather indifferent logic to those who consider 
that Cortes appointed the very body who, in turn, appointed him to 
the command. But the affectation of legal forms afforded him a thin 
varnish for his proceedings, which served his purpose, for the present 
at least, with the troops. For the future, he trusted to his good star — 
in other words, to the success of his enterprise — to vindicate his con- 
duct to the Emperor. He did not miscalculate. 



the shore to the north as far as Chiahuitztla, the town 
near which the destined port of the new city was sit- 
uated ; proposing, himself, at the head of his troops, 
to visit Cempoalla, on the march. The road lay for 
some miles across the dreary plains in the neighbor- 
hood of the modern Vera Cruz. In this sandy waste 
no signs of vegetation met their eyes, which, however, 
were occasionally refreshed by glimpses of the blue 
Atlantic, and by the distant view of the magnificent 
Orizaba, towering, with his spotless diadem of snow, 
far above his colossal brethren of the Andes." As 
they advanced, the country gradually assumed a greener 
and richer aspect. They crossed a river, probably a 
tributary of the Rio de la Antigua, with difficulty, on 
rafts, and on some broken canoes that were lying on 
the banks. They now came in view of very different 
scenery, — wide-rolling plains covered with a rich car- 
pet of verdure and overshadowed by groves of cocoas 
and feathery palms, among whose tall, slender stems 

12 The name of the mountain is not given, and probably was not 
known, but the minute description in the MS. of Vera Cruz leaves no 
doubt that it was the one mentioned in the text. " Entre las quales 
asi una que excede en mucha altura &. todas las otras y de ella se vee 
y descubre gran parte de la mar y de la tierra, y es tan alta, que si el 
dia no es bien claro, no se puede divisar ni ver lo alto de ella, porque 
de la mitad arriba estd toda cubierta de nubes : y algunos veces, 
cuando hace muy claro dia, se vee por cima de las dichas nubes lo alto 
de ella, y estd tan bianco, que lo jusgamos por nieve." (Carta de 
Vera Cruz, MS.) This huge volcano was called Citlaltepetl, or " Star 
Mountain," by the Mexicans, — perhaps from the fire which once 
issued from its conical summit, far above the clouds. It stands in the 
intendancy of Vera Cruz, and rises, according to Humboldt's measure- 
ment, to the enormous height of 17,368 feet above the ocean. (Essai 
politique, torn. i. p. 265.) It is the highest peak but one in the whole 
range of the Mexican Cordilleras. 



were seen deer, and various wild animals with which 
the Spaniards were unacquainted. Some of the horse- 
men gave chase to the deer, and wounded, but did not 
succeed in killing them. They saw, also, pheasants 
and other birds ; among them the wild turkey, the 
pride of the American forest, which the Spaniards 
described as a species of peacock. 13 

On their route they passed through some deserted 
villages, in which were Indian temples, where they 
found censers, and other sacred utensils, and manu- 
scripts of the agave fibre, containing the picture- 
writing, in which, probably, their religious ceremonies 
were recorded. They now beheld, also, the hideous 
spectacle, with which they became afterwards familiar, 
of the mutilated corpses of victims who had been 
sacrificed to the accursed deities of the land. The 
Spaniards turned with loathing and indignation from 
a display of butchery which formed so dismal a con- 
trast to the fair scenes of nature by which they were 

They held their course along the banks of the river, 
towards its source, when they were met by twelve 
Indians, sent by the cacique of Cempoalla to show them 
the way to his residence. At night they bivouacked 
in an open meadow, where they were well supplied 
with provisions by their new friends. They left the 
stream on the following morning, and, striking north- 
erly across the country, came upon a wide expanse of 
luxuriant plains and woodland, glowing in all the 
splendor of tropical vegetation. The branches of the 

J 3 Carta de Vera Cruz, MS. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, 
cap. 44. 


stately trees were gayly festooned with clustering vines 
of the dark-purple grape, variegated convolvuli, and 
other flowering parasites of the most brilliant dyes. 
The undergrowth of prickly aloe, matted with wild 
rose and honeysuckle, made in many places an almost 
impervious thicket. Amid this wilderness of sweet- 
smelling buds and blossoms fluttered numerous birds 
of the parrot tribe, and clouds of butterflies, whose 
gaudy colors, nowhere so gorgeous as in the tierra 
caliente, rivalled those of the vegetable creation ; while 
birds of exquisite song, the scarlet cardinal, and the 
marvellous mocking-bird, that comprehends in his own 
notes the whole music of a forest, filled the air with 
delicious melody. The hearts of the stern Conquerors 
were not very sensible to the beauties of nature. But 
the magical charms of the scenery drew forth unbounded 
expressions of delight, and as they wandered through 
this "terrestrial paradise," as they called it, they 
fondly compared it to the fairest regions of their own 
sunny land. 14 

*4 Gomara, Cronica, cap. 32, ap. Barcia, torn. ii. — Herrera, Hist, 
general, dec. 2, lib. 5, cap. 1. — Oviedo, Hist, de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, 
cap. 1. — " Mui hermosas vegas y riberas tales y tan hermosas que en 
toda Espafia no pueden ser mejores ansi de apacibles i. la vista como 
de fructiferas." (Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.) The following poetical 
apostrophe, by Lord Morpeth, to the scenery of Cuba, equally appli- 
cable to that of the tierra caliente, will give the reader a more ani- 
mated picture of the glories of these sunny climes than my own prose 
can. The verses, which have never been published, breathe the 
generous sentiment characteristic of their noble author: 

" Ye tropic forests of unfading green, 

Where the palm tapers and the orange glows, 

Where the light bamboo waves her feathery screen, 

And her far shade the matchless ceil/a throws 1 



As they approached the Indian city, they saw abun- 
dant signs of cultivation, in the trim gardens and 
orchards that lined both sides of the road. They were 
now met by parties of the natives, of either sex, who in- 
creased in numbers with every step of their progress. 
The women, as well as men, mingled fearlessly among 
the soldiers, bearing bunches and wreaths of flowers, 
with which they decorated the neck of the general's 
charger, and hung a chaplet of roses about his helmet 
Flowers were the delight of this people. They be- 
stowed much care in their cultivation, in which they 
were well seconded by a climate of alternate heat and 
moisture, stimulating the soil to the spontaneous pro- 
duction of every form of vegetable life. The same re- 
fined taste, as we shall see, prevailed among the warlike 
Aztecs, and has survived the degradation of the nation 
in their descendants of the present day. IS 

Many of the women appeared, from their richer dress 
and numerous attendants, to be persons of rank. They 
were clad in robes of fine cotton, curiously colored, 

" Ye cloudless ethers of unchanging blue, 

Save where the rosy streaks of eve give way 
To the clear sapphire of your midnight hue, 
The burnished azure of your perfect day ! 

" Yet tell me not my native skies are bleak, 

That flushed with liquid wealth no cane-fields wave ; 
For Virtue pines, and Manhood dares not speak, 
And Nature's glories brighten round the Slave." 

j s " The same love of flowers," observes one of the most delightful 
of modern travellers, " distinguishes the natives now, as in the times 
of Cortes. And it presents a strange anomaly," she adds, with her 
usual acuteness ; " this love of flowers having existed along with their 
sanguinary worship and barbarous sacrifices." Madame Calderon de 
la Barca, Life in Mexico, vol. i. let. 12. 



which reached from the neck — in the inferior orders, 
from the waist — to the ankles. The men wore a sort 
of mantle of the same material, a la Morisca, in the 
Moorish fashion, over their shoulders, and belts or 
sashes about the loins. Both sexes had jewels and 
ornaments of gold round their necks, while their ears 
and nostrils were perforated with rings of the same metal. 

Just before reaching the town, some horsemen who 
had ridden in advance returned with the amazing intel- 
ligence "that they had been near enough to look within 
the gates, and found the houses all plated with bur- 
nished silver !" On entering the place, the silver was 
found to be nothing more than a brilliant coating of 
stucco, with which the principal buildings were cov- 
ered ; a circumstance which produced much merriment 
among the soldiers at the expense of their credulous 
comrades. Such ready credulity is a proof of the ex- 
alted state of their imaginations, which were prepared 
to see gold and silver in every object around them. 16 
The edifices of the better kind were of stone and lime, 
or bricks dried in the sun ; the poorer were of clay 
and earth. All were thatched with palm-leaves, which, 
though a flimsy roof, apparently, for such structures, 
were so nicely interwoven as to form a very effectual 
protection against the weather. 

The city was said to contain from twenty to thirty 
thousand inhabitants. This is the most moderate com- 
putation, and not improbable. 17 Slowly and silently 

16 " Con la imagination que llevaban, i tmenos deseos, todo se les 
antojaba plata i oro lo que relucia." Gomara, Cronica, cap. 32, ap. 
Barcia, torn. ii. 

*7 This is Las Casas' estimate (Hist, de las Ind., MS., lib. 3, cap. 



the little army paced the narrow and now crowded 
streets of Cempoalla, inspiring the natives with no 
greater wonder than they themselves experienced at 
the display of a policy and refinement so far superior 
to anything they had witnessed in the New World. 18 
The cacique came out in front of his residence to re- 
ceive them. He was a tall and very corpulent man, 
and advanced leaning on two of his attendants. He 
received Cortes and his followers with great courtesy, 
and, after a brief interchange of civilities, assigned the 
army its quarters in a neighboring temple, into the 
spacious court-yard of which a number of apartments 
opened, affording excellent accommodations for the 

Here the Spaniards were well supplied with pro- 
visions, meat cooked after the fashion of the country, 
and maize made into bread-cakes. The general re- 
ceived, also, a present of considerable value from the 
cacique, consisting of ornaments of gold and fine cot- 
tons. Notwithstanding these friendly demonstrations, 
Cortes did not relax his habitual vigilance, nor neglect 
any of the precautions of a good soldier. On his route, 
indeed, he had always marched in order of battle, well 
prepared against surprise. In his present quarters, he 

121.) Torquemada hesitates between twenty, fifty, and one hundred 
and fifty thousand, each of which he names at different times ! (Clavi- 
gero, Stor. del Messico, torn. iii. p. 26, nota.) The place was gradually 
abandoned, after the Conquest, for others, in a more favorable posi- 
tion, probably, for trade. Its ruins were visible at the close of the last 
century. See Lorenzana, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, p. 39, nota. 

18 " Porque viven mas politica y rasonablemente que ninguna de 
las gentes que hasta oy en estas partes se ha visto." Carta de Vera 
Cruz, MS. 

Vol. I. — P 29 


stationed his sentinels with like care, posted his small 
artillery so as to command the entrance, and forbade 
any soldier to leave the camp without orders, under 
pain of death. 19 

The following morning, Cortes, accompanied by 
fifty of his men, paid a visit to the lord of Cempoalla 
in his own residence. It was a building of stone and 
lime, standing on a steep terrace of earth, and was 
reached by a flight of stone steps. It may have borne 
resemblance in its structure to some of the ancient 
buildings found in Central America. Cortes, leaving 
his soldiers in the court-yard, entered the mansion with 
one of his officers, and his fair interpreter, Dona 
Marina. 20 A long conference ensued, from which the 
Spanish general gathered much light respecting the 
state of the country. He first announced to the chief 
that he was the subject of a great monarch who dwelt 
beyond the waters ; that he had come to the Aztec 
shores to abolish the inhuman worship which prevailed 
there, and to introduce the knowledge of the true God. 
The cacique replied that their gods, who sent them 
the sunshine and the rain, were good enough for them ; 
that he was the tributary of a powerful monarch also, 
whose capital stood on a lake far off among the moun- 
tains, — a stern prince, merciless in his exactions, and, 
in case of resistance, or any offence, sure to wreak his 
vengeance by carrying off their young men and 
maidens to be sacrificed to his deities. Cortes assured 

*9 Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 121. — Carta de 
Vera Cruz, MS. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 33, ap. Barcia, torn. ii. — 
Oviedo, Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 33, cap. 1. 

00 The courteous title of dona is usually given by the Spanish 
chroniclers to this accomplished Indian. 



him that he would never consent to such enor- 
mities ; he had been sent by his sovereign to redress 
abuses and to punish the oppressor ; 21 and, if the 
Totonacs would be true to him, he would enable them 
to throw off the detested yoke of the Aztecs. 

The cacique added that the Totonac territory con- 
tained about thirty towns and villages, which could 
muster a hundred thousand warriors, — a number much 
exaggerated. 22 There were other provinces of the 
empire, he said, where the Aztec rule was equally 
odious ; and between him and the capital lay the war- 
like republic of Tlascala, which had always maintained 
its independence of Mexico. The fame of the Span- 
iards had gone before them, and he was well acquainted 
with their terrible victory at Tabasco. But still he 
looked with doubt and alarm to a rupture with "the 
great Montezuma," as he always styled him; whose 
armies, on the least provocation, would pour down 
from the mountain regions of the West, and, rushing 
over the plains like a whirlwind, sweep off the wretched 
people to slavery and sacrifice ! 

Cortes endeavored to reassure him, by declaring that 
a single Spaniard was stronger than a host of Aztecs. 
At the same time, it was desirable to know what nations 
would co-operate with him, not so much on his account 
as theirs, that he might distinguish friend from foe and 

21 " He had come only to redress injuries, to protect the captive, to 
succor the weak, and to overthrow tyranny." (Gomara, Cronica, 
cap. 33, ap. Barcia, torn, ii.) Are we reading the adventures — it is the 
language — of Don Quixote or Amadis de Gaula ? 

22 Ibid., cap. 36. — Cortes, in his Second Letter to the Emperor 
Charles V., estimates the number of fighting-men at 50,000. Relacion 
segunda, ap. Lorenzana, p. 40. 



know whom he was to spare in this war of extermina- 
tion. Having raised the confidence of the admiring 
chief by this comfortable and politic vaunt, he took an 
affectionate leave, with the assurance that he would 
shortly return and concert measures for their future 
operations, when he had visited his ships in the 
adjoining port and secured a permanent settlement 
there. 23 

The intelligence gained by Cortes gave great satis- 
faction to his mind. It confirmed his former views, 
and showed, indeed, the interior of the monarchy to 
be in a state far more distracted than he had supposed. 
If he had before scarcely shrunk from attacking the 
Aztec empire, in the true spirit of a knight-errant, with 
his single arm, as it were, what had he now to fear, 
when one half of the nation could be thus marshalled 
against the other ? In the excitement of the moment, 
his sanguine spirit kindled with an enthusiasm which 
overleaped every obstacle. He communicated his own 
feelings to the officers about him, and, before a blow 
was struck, they already felt as if the banners of Spain 
were waving in triumph from the towers of Monte- 
zuma ! But many a bloody field was to be fought, 
many a peril and privation to be encountered, before 
that consummation could be attained. 

Taking leave of the hospitable Indian, on the follow- 
ing day the Spaniards took the road to Chiahuitztla, 24 

=3 Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 121. — Ixtlilxochitl. 
Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 81.— Oviedo, Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 33, 
cap. 1. 

24 The historian, with the aid of Clavigero, himself a Mexican, may- 
rectify frequent blunders of former writers, in the orthography of Aztec 



about four leagues distant, near which was the port 
discovered by Montejo, where their ships were now 
riding at anchor. They were provided by the cacique 
with four hundred Indian porters, tamanes, as they 
were called, to transport the baggage. These men 
easily carried fifty pounds' weight five or six leagues in 
a day. They were in use all over the Mexican empire, 
and the Spaniards found them of great service, hence- 
forth, in relieving the troops from this part of their 
duty. They passed through a country of the same 
rich, voluptuous character as that which they had lately 
traversed, and arrived early next morning at the Indian 
town, perched like a fortress on a bold, rocky eminence 
that commanded the Gulf. Most of the inhabitants 
had fled, but fifteen of the principal men remained, 
who received them in a friendly manner, offering the 
usual compliments of flowers and incense. The people 
of the place, losing their fears, gradually returned. 
While conversing with the chiefs, the Spaniards were 
joined by the worthy cacique of Cempoalla, borne by 
his men on a litter. He eagerly took part in their 
deliberations. The intelligence gained here by Cortes 
confirmed the accounts already gathered of the feelings 
and resources of the Totonac nation. 

In the midst of their conference, they were inter- 
rupted by a movement among the people, and soon 
afterwards five men entered the great square or market- 
place, where they were standing. By their lofty port, 
their peculiar and much richer dress, they seemed not 

names. Both Robertson and Solis spell the name of this place Quia- 
bislan. Blunders in such a barbarous nomenclature must be admitted 
to be very pardonable. 




to be of the same race as these Indians. Their dark, 
glossy hair was tied in a knot on the top of the head. 
They had bunches of flowers in their hands, and were 
followed by several attendants, some bearing wands 
with cords, others fans, with which they brushed away 
the flies and insects from their lordly masters. As 
these persons passed through the place, they cast a 
haughty look on the Spaniards, scarcely deigning to 
return their salutations. They were immediately joined, 
in great confusion, by the Totonac chiefs, who seemed 
anxious to conciliate them by every kind of attention. 

The general, much astonished, inquired of Marina 
what it meant. She informed him they were Aztec 
nobles, empowered to receive the tribute for Monte- 
zuma. Soon after, the chiefs returned with dismay 
painted on their faces. They confirmed Marina's 
statement, adding that the Aztecs greatly resented 
the entertainment afforded the Spaniards without the 
Emperor's permission, and demanded in expiation 
twenty young men and women for sacrifice to the 
gods. Cortes showed the strongest indignation at 
this insolence. He required the Totonacs not only to 
refuse the demand, but to arrest the persons of the 
collectors and throw them into prison. The chiefs 
hesitated, but he insisted on it so peremptorily that 
they at length complied, and the Aztecs were seized, 
bound hand and foot, and placed under a guard. 

In the night, the Spanish general procured the escape 
of two of them, and had them brought secretly before 
him. He expressed his regret at the indignity they 
had experienced from the Totonacs; told them he 
would provide means for their flight, and to-morrow 



would endeavor to obtain the release of their compan- 
ions. He desired them to report this to their master, 
with assurances of the great regard the Spaniards 
entertained for him, notwithstanding his ungenerous 
behavior in leaving them to perish from want on his 
barren shores. He then sent the Mexican nobles down 
to the port, whence they were carried to another part 
of the coast by water, for fear of the violence of the 
Totonacs. These were greatly incensed at the escape 
of the prisoners, and would have sacrificed the re- 
mainder at once, but for the Spanish commander, who 
evinced the utmost horror at the proposal, and ordered 
them to be sent for safe custody on board the fleet. 
Soon after, they were permitted to join their compan- 
ions. This artful proceeding, so characteristic of the 
policy of Cortes, had, as we shall see hereafter, all the 
effect intended on Montezuma. It cannot be com- 
mended, certainly, as in the true spirit of chivalry. 
Yet it has not wanted its panegyrist among the national 
historians ! 2S 

By order of Cortes, messengers were despatched to 
the Totonac towns to report what had been done, call- 
ing on them to refuse the payment of further tribute 
to Montezuma. But there was no need of messengers. 
The affrighted attendants of the Aztec lords had fled 
in every direction, bearing the tidings, which spread 
like wildfire through the country, of the daring insult 
offered to the majesty of Mexico. The astonished 
Indians, cheered with the sweet hope of regaining their 

a s " Grande artifice," exclaims Solfs, " de medir lo que disponia con 
lo que recelaba ; y pradente capitan el que sabe caminar en alcance 
de las contingencias" 1 Conquista, lib. 2, cap. 9. 



ancient liberty, came in numbers to Chiahuitztla, to 
see and confer with the formidable strangers. The 
more timid, dismayed at the thought of encountering 
the power of Montezuma, recommended an embassy 
to avert his displeasure by timely concessions. But 
the dexterous management of Cortes had committed 
them too far to allow any reasonable expectation of 
indulgence from this quarter. After some hesitation, 
therefore, it was determined to embrace the protection 
of the Spaniards, and to make one bold effort for the 
recovery of freedom. Oaths of allegiance were taken 
by the chiefs to the Spanish sovereigns, and duly 
recorded by Godoy, the royal notary. Cortes, satis- 
fied with the important acquisition of so many vassals 
to the crown, set out soon after for the destined port, 
having first promised to revisit Cempoalla, where his 
business was but partially accomplished. 26 

The spot selected for the new city was only half a 
league distant, in a wide and fruitful plain, affording a 
tolerable haven for the shipping. Cortes was not long 
in determining the circuit of the walls, and the sites 
of the fort, granary, town-house, temple, and other 
public buildings. The friendly Indians eagerly assisted, 
by bringing materials, stone, lime, wood, and bricks 
dried in the sun. Every man put his hand to the 
work. The general labored with the meanest of the 
soldiers, stimulating their exertions by his example as 
well as voice. In a few weeks the task was accom- 

as Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 8l. — Rel. Seg. de Cortes, 
ap. Lorenzana, p. 40. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 34-36, ap. Barcia, torn, 
ii. — Bernal Diaz, Conquista, cap. 46, 47. — Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 
2, lib. 5, cap. 10, 11. 



plished, and a town rose up, which, if not quite worthy 
of the aspiring name it bore, answered most of the 
purposes for which it was intended. It served as a 
good point d 1 appui for future operations; a place of 
retreat for the disabled, as well as for the army in case 
of reverses ; a magazine for stores, and for such arti- 
cles as might be received from or sent to the mother- 
country; a port for the shipping ; a position of sufficient 
strength to overawe the adjacent country. 27 

It was the first colony — the fruitful parent of so many 
others — in New Spain. It was hailed with satisfaction 
by the simple natives, who hoped to repose in safety 
under its protecting shadow. Alas ! they could not 
read the future, or they would have found no cause to 
rejoice in this harbinger of a revolution more tremen- 
dous than any predicted by their bards and prophets. 
It was not the good Quetzalcoatl who had returned to 
claim his own again, bringing peace, freedom, and 
civilization in his train. Their fetters, indeed, would 
be broken, and their wrongs be amply avenged on the 

*7 Carta de Vera Cruz, MS. — Bernal Diaz, Conquista, cap. 48. — 
Oviedo, Hist, de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 1. — Declaracion de Mon- 
tejo, MS. — Notwithstanding the advantages of its situation, La Villa 
Rica was abandoned in a few years for a neighboring position to the 
south, not far from the mouth of the Antigua. This second settle- 
ment was known by the name of Vera Cruz Vieja, " Old Vera Cruz." 
Early in the seventeenth century this place, also, was abandoned foi 
the present city, Nueva Vera Cruz, or New Vera Cruz, as it is called. 
(See ante, chap. 5, note 8.) Of the true cause of these successive 
migrations we are ignorant. If, as is pretended, it was on account of 
the vomiio, the inhabitants, one would suppose, can have gained little 
by the exchange. (See Humboldt, Essai politique, torn. ii. p. 210.) 
A want of attention to these changes has led to much confusion and 
inaccuracy in the ancient maps. Lorenzana has not escaped them in 
his chart and topographical account of the route of Cortes. 


proud head of the Aztec. But it was to be by that 
strong arm which should bow down equally the op- 
pressor and the oppressed. The light of civilization 
would be poured on their land. But it would be the 
light of a consuming fire, before which their barbaric 
glory, their institutions, their very existence and name 
as a nation, would wither and become extinct ! Their 
doom was sealed when the white man had set his foot 
on their soil. 




While the Spaniards were occupied with their new 
settlement, they were surprised by the presence of an 
embassy from Mexico. The account of the imprison- 
ment of the royal collectors had spread rapidly through 
the country. When it reached the capital, all were 
filled with amazement at the unprecedented daring 
of the strangers. In Montezuma every other feeling, 
even that of fear, was swallowed up in indignation ; 
and he showed his wonted energy in the vigorous 
preparations which he instantly made to punish his re- 
bellious vassals and to avenge the insult offered to the 
majesty of the empire. But when the Aztec officers 
liberated by Cortes reached the capital and reported 
the courteous treatment they had received from the 
Spanish commander, Montezuma's anger was miti- 
gated, and his superstitious fears, getting the ascend- 
ency again, induced him to resume his former timid 
and conciliatory policy. He accordingly sent an em- 
bassy, consisting of two youths, his nephews, and four 
of the ancient nobles of his court, to the Spanish quar- 



ters. He provided them, in his usual munificent spirit, 
with a princely donation of gold, rich cotton stuffs, 
and beautiful mantles of the filumaje, or feather em- 
broidery. The envoys, on coming before Cortes, pre- 
sented him with the articles, at the same time offering 
the acknowledgments of their master for the courtesy 
he had shown in liberating his captive nobles. He was 
surprised and afflicted, however, that the Spaniards 
should have countenanced his faithless vassals in their 
rebellion. He had no doubt they were the strangers 
whose arrival had been so long announced by the 
oracles, and of the same lineage with himself. 1 From 
deference to them he would spare the Totonacs, while 
they were present. But the time for vengeance would 

Cortes entertained the Indian chieftains with frank 
hospitality. At the same time, he took care to make 
such a display of his resources as, while it amused their 
minds, should leave a deep impression of his power. 
He then, after a few trifling gifts, dismissed them with 
a conciliatory message to their master, and the assur- 
ance that he should soon pay his respects to him in his 
capital, where all misunderstanding between them would 
be readily adjusted. 

The Totonac allies could scarcely credit their senses, 
when they gathered the nature of this interview. Not- 
withstanding the presence of the Spaniards, they had 
looked with apprehension to the consequences of their 

1 " Teniendo respeto a que tiene por cierto, que somos los que sus 
antepassados les auian dicho, que auian de venir a sus tierras, £ que 
deuemos de ser de sus linajes." Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, 
cap. 48. 



rash act; and their feelings of admiration were height- 
ened into awe for the strangers who, at this distance, 
could exercise so mysterious an influence over the terri- 
ble Montezuma. 2 

Not long after, the Spaniards received an application 
from the cacique of Cempoalla to aid him in a dispute 
in which he was engaged with a neighboring city. 
Cortes marched with a part of his forces to his support. 
On the route, one Morla, a common soldier, robbed a 
native of a couple of fowls. Cortes, indignant at this 
violation of his orders before his face, and aware of the 
importance of maintaining a reputation for good faith 
with his allies, commanded the man to be hung up, 
at once, by the roadside, in face of the whole army. 
Fortunately for the poor wretch, Pedro de Alvarado, 
the future conqueror of Quiche, was present, and ven- 
tured to cut down the body, while there was yet life in 
it. He, probably, thought enough had been done for 
example, and the loss of a single life, unnecessarily, 
was more than the little band could afford. The an- 
ecdote is characteristic, as showing the strict discipline 
maintained by Cortes over his men, and the freedom 
assumed by his captains, who regarded him on terms 
nearly of equality, — as a fellow-adventurer with them- 
selves. This feeling of companionship led to a spirit 
of insubordination among them, which made his own 
post as commander the more delicate and difficult. 

On reaching the hostile city, but a few leagues from 
the coast, they were received in an amicable manner ; 
and Cort6s, who was accompanied by his allies, had 

8 Gomara, Cronica, cap. 37. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 

Vox. I. 30 



the satisfaction of reconciling these different branches 
of the Totonac family with each other, without blood- 
shed. He then returned to Cempoalla, where he was 
welcomed with joy by the people, who were now im- 
pressed with as favorable an opinion of his moderation 
and justice as they had before been of his valor. In 
token of his gratitude, the Indian cacique delivered to 
the general eight Indian maidens, richly dressed, wear- 
ing collars and ornaments of gold, with a number of 
female slaves to wait on them. They were daughters 
of the principal chiefs, and the cacique requested that 
the Spanish captains might take them as their wives. 
Cortes received the damsels courteously, but told the 
cacique they must first be baptized, as the sons of the 
Church could have no commerce with idolaters. 3 He 
then declared that it was a great object of his mission 
to wean the natives from their heathenish abominations, 
and besought the Totonac lord to allow his idols to be 
cast down, and the symbols of the true faith to be 
erected in their place. 

To this the other answered, as before, that his gods 
were good enough for him ; nor could all the persua- 
sion of the general, nor the preaching of Father Olmedo, 
induce him to acquiesce. Mingled with his polythe- 
ism, he had conceptions of a Supreme and Infinite 
Being, Creator of the Universe, and his darkened 
understanding could not comprehend how such a Being 
could condescend to take the form of humanity, with 

3 " De buena gana recibirian las Doncellas como fuesen Christianas ; 
porque de otra manera, no era permitido & hombres, hijos de la Igle- 
sia de Dios, tener comercio con idolatras." Herrera, Hist, general, 
dec. 2, lib. 5, cap. 13. 


its infirmities and ills, and wander about on earth, the 
voluntary victim of persecution from the hands of 
those whom his breath had called into existence. 4 He 
plainly told the Spaniards that he would resist any 
violence offered to his gods, who would, indeed, avenge 
the act themselves, by the instant destruction of their 

But the zeal of the Christians had mounted too high 
to be cooled by remonstrance or menace. During 
their residence in the land, they had witnessed more 
than once the barbarous rites of the natives, their cruel 
sacrifices of human victims, and their disgusting can- 
nibal repasts. 5 Their souls sickened at these abomina- 
tions, and they agreed with one voice to stand by their 
general, when he told them that " Heaven would never 
smile on their enterprise if they countenanced such 
atrocities, and that, for his own part, he was resolved 
the Indian idols should be demolished that very hour, 
if it cost him his life." To postpone the work of 
conversion was a sin. In the enthusiasm of the moment, 

4-Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 5, cap. 13. — Las Casas, Hist. 
de las Indias, MS,, lib. 3, cap. 122. — Herrera has put a very edifying 
harangue, on this occasion, into the mouth of Cortes, which savors 
much more of the priest than the soldier. Does he not confound him 
with Father Olmedo? 

S " Esto habemos visto," says the Letter of Vera Cruz, " algunos de 
nosotros, y los que lo han visto dizen que es la mas terrible y la mas 
espantosa cosa de ver que jamas han visto." Still more strongly 
speaks Bernal Diaz. (Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 51.) The Letter 
computes that there were fifty or sixty persons thus butchered in each 
of the teocallis every year; giving an annual consumption, in the 
countries which the Spaniards had then visited, of three or four thou- 
sand victims! (Carta de Vera Cruz, MS.) However loose this 
arithmetic may be, the general fact is appalling. 


the dictates of policy and ordinary prudence were alike 

Scarcely waiting for his commands, the Spaniards 
moved towards one of the principal teocallis, or tem- 
ples, which rose high on a pyramidal foundation, with 
a steep ascent of stone steps in the middle. The ca- 
cique, divining their purpose, instantly called his men 
to arms. The Indian warriors gathered from all quar- 
ters, with shrill cries and clashing of weapons ; while 
the priests, in their dark cotton robes, with dishevelled 
tresses matted with blood, flowing wildly over their 
shoulders, rushed frantic among the natives, calling on 
them to protect their gods from violation ! All was 
now confusion, tumult, and warlike menace, where so 
lately had been peace and the sweet brotherhood of 

Cortes took his usual prompt and decided measures. 
He caused the cacique and some of the principal in- 
habitants and priests to be arrested by his soldiers. He 
then commanded them to quiet the people, for, if an 
arrow was shot against a Spaniard, it should cost every 
one of them his life. Marina, at the same time, rep- 
resented the madness of resistance, and reminded the 
cacique that if he now alienated the affections of the 
Spaniards he would be left without a protector against 
the terrible vengeance of Montezuma. These temporal 
considerations seem to have had more weight with the 
Totonac chieftain than those of a more spiritual nature. 
He covered his face with his hands, exclaiming that the 
gods would avenge their own wrongs. 

The Christians were not slow in availing themselves 
of his tacit acquiescence. Fifty soldiers, at a signal 



from their general, sprang up the great stairway of the 
temple, entered the building on the summit, the walls 
of which were black with human gore, tore the huge 
wooden idols from their foundations, and dragged them 
to the edge of the terrace. Their fantastic forms and 
features, conveying a symbolic meaning, which was 
lost on the Spaniards, seemed in their eyes only the 
hideous lineaments of Satan. With great alacrity they 
rolled the colossal monsters down the steps of the 
pyramid, amidst the triumphant shouts of their own 
companions, and the groans and lamentations of the 
natives. They then consummated the whole by burning 
them in the presence of the assembled multitude. 

The same effect followed as in Cozumel. The To- 
tonacs, finding their deities incapable of preventing or 
even punishing this profanation of their shrines, con- 
ceived a mean opinion of their power, compared with 
that of the mysterious and formidable strangers. The 
floor and walls of the teocalli were then cleansed, by 
command of Cortes, from their foul impurities ; a fresh 
coating of stucco was laid on them by the Indian 
masons ; and an altar was raised, surmounted by a lofty 
cross, and hung with garlands of roses. A procession 
was next formed, in which some of the principal To- 
tonac priests, exchanging their dark mantles for robes 
of white, carried lighted candles in their hands ; while 
an image of the Virgin, half smothered under the 
weight of flowers, was borne aloft, and, as the pro- 
cession climbed the steps of the temple, was depos- 
ited above the altar. Mass was performed by Father 
Olmedo, and the impressive character of the ceremony 
and the passionate eloquence of the good priest touched 




the feelings of the motley audience, until Indians as 
well as Spaniards, if we may trust the chronicler, were 
melted into tears and audible sobs. The Protestant 
missionary seeks to enlighten the understanding of his 
convert by the pale light of reason. But the bolder 
Catholic, kindling the spirit by the splendor of the 
spectacle and by the glowing portrait of an agonized 
Redeemer, sweeps along his hearers in a tempest of 
passion, that drowns everything like reflection. He 
has secured his convert, however, by the hold on his 
affections, — an easier and more powerful hold, with 
the untutored savage, than reason. 

An old soldier named Juan de Torres, disabled by 
bodily infirmity, consented to remain and watch over 
the sanctuary and instruct the natives in its services. 
Cortes then, embracing his Totonac allies, now bro- 
thers in religion as in arms, set out once more for 
the Villa Rica, where he had some arrangements to 
complete previous to his departure for the capital. 6 

He was surprised to find that a Spanish vessel had 
arrived there in his absence, having on board twelve 
soldiers and two horses. It was under the command 
of a captain named Saucedo, a cavalier of the ocean, 
who had followed in the track of Cortes in quest of 
adventure. Though a small, they afforded a very sea- 
sonable body of recruits for the little army. By these 
men, the Spaniards were informed that Velasquez, the 
governor of Cuba, had lately received a warrant from 

6 Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 122.— Bernal 
Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 51, 52. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 43. 
— Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 5, cap. 13, 14. — Ixtlilxochitl, 
Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83. 



the Spanish government to establish a colony in the 
newly-discovered countries. •' 

Cortes now resolved to put a plan in execution which 
he had been some time meditating. He knew that all 
the late acts of the colony, as well as his own authority, 
would fall to the ground without the royal sanction. 
He knew, too, that the interest of Velasquez, which 
was great at court, would, so soon as he was acquainted 
with his secession, be wholly employed to circumvent 
and crush him. He resolved to anticipate his move- 
ments, and to send a vessel to Spain with despatches 
addressed to the emperor himself, announcing the 
nature and extent of his discoveries, and to obtain, 
if possible, the confirmation of his proceedings. In 
order to conciliate his master's good will, he further 
proposed to send him such a present as should suggest 
lofty ideas of the importance of his own services to 
the crown. To effect this, the royal fifth he consid- 
ered inadequate. He conferred with his officers, and 
persuaded them to relinquish their share of the treas 
ure. At his instance, they made a similar application 
to the soldiers ; representing that it was the earnest 
wish of the general, who set the example by resigning 
his own fifth, equal to the share of the crown. It was 
but little that each man was asked to surrender, but 
the whole would make a present worthy of the monarch 
for whom it was intended. By this sacrifice they might 
hope to secure his indulgence for the past and his favor 
for the future ; a temporary sacrifice, that would be 
well repaid by the security of the rich possessions 
which awaited them in Mexico. A paper was then 
circulated among the soldiers, which all who were dis- 


posed to relinquish their shares were requested to sign. 
Those who declined should have their claims respected, 
and receive the amount due to them. No one refused 
to sign ; thus furnishing another example of the extraor- 
dinary power obtained by Cortes over these rapacious 
spirits, who, at his call, surrendered up the very treas- 
ures which had been the great object of their hazardous 
enterprise ! 7 

7 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 53. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. 
Chich., MS., cap. 82. — Carta de Vera Cruz, MS. 

A complete inventory of the articles received from Montezuma is 
contained in the Carta de Vera Cruz, — The following are a few of the 

Two collars made of gold and precious stones. 

A hundred ounces of gold ore, that their Highnesses might see in 
what state the gold came from the mines. 

Two birds made of green feathers, with feet, beaks, and eyes of 
gold, — and, in the same piece with them, animals of gold, resembling 

A large alligator's head of gold. 

A bird of green feathers, with feet, beak, and eyes of gold. 

Two birds made of thread and feather-work, having the quills of 
their wings and tails, their feet, eyes, and the ends of their beaks, of 
gold, — standing upon two reeds covered with gold, which are raised 
on balls of feather-work and gold embroidery, one white and the 
other yellow, with seven tassels of feather-work hanging from each 
of them. 

A large silver wheel weighing forty-eight marks, several bracelets 
and leaves of the same metal, together with five smaller shields, the 
whole weighing sixty-two marks of silver. 

A box of feather-work embroidered on leather, with a large plate 
of gold, weighing seventy ounces, in the midst. 

Two pieces of cloth woven with feathers ; another with variegated 
colors ; and another worked with black and white figures. 

A large wheel of gold, with figures of strange animals on it, and 
worked with tufts of leaves ; weighing three thousand eight hundred 


He accompanied this present with a letter to the 
emperor, in which he gave a full account of all that 
had befallen him since his departure from Cuba ; of 
his various discoveries, battles, and traffic with the 
natives ; their conversion to Christianity ; his strange 
perils and sufferings ; many particulars respecting the 
lands he had visited, and such as he could collect in 
regard to the great Mexican monarchy and its sov- 
ereign. He stated his difficulties with the governor 
of Cuba, the proceedings of the army in reference to 
colonization, and besought the emperor to confirm 
their acts, as well as his own authority, expressing his 
entire confidence that he should be able, with the aid 
of his brave followers, to place the Castilian crown in 
possession of this great Indian empire. 8 

This was the celebrated First Letter, as it is called, 
of Cortes, which has hitherto eluded every search that 
has been made for it in the libraries of Europe. 9 Its 

A fan of variegated feather-work, with thirty-seven rods plated 
with gold. 

Five fans of variegated feathers, — four of which have ten, and the 
other thirteen, rods embossed with gold. 

Sixteen shields of precious stones, with feathers of various colors 
hanging from their rims. 

Two pieces of cotton very richly wrought with black and white 

Six shields, each covered with a plate of gold, with something 
resembling a golden mitre in the centre. 

8 " Una muy larga Carta," says Gomara, in his loose analysis of it, 
Cronica, cap. 40. 

9 Dr. Robertson states that the Imperial Library at Vienna was 
examined for this document, at his instance, but without success. 
(History of America, vol. ii. note 70.) I have not been more fortunate 
in the researches made for me in the British Museum, the Royal 
Library of Paris, and that of the Academy of History at Madrid. 


existence is fully established by references to it, both 
in his own subsequent letters, and in the writings of 
contemporaries. 10 Its general purport is given by his 

The last is a great depository for the colonial historical documents ; 
but a very thorough inspection of its papers makes it certain that this 
is wanting to the collection. As the emperor received it on the eve 
of his embarkation for Germany, and the Letter of Vera Cruz, for- 
warded at the same time, is in the library of Vienna, this would seem, 
after all, to be the most probable place of its retreat. 

10 " By a ship," says Cortes, in the very first sentence of his Second 
Letter to the emperor, "which I despatched from this your sacred 
majesty's province of New Spain on the 16th of July of the year 1519, 
I sent your highness a very long and particular relation of what had 
happened from my coming hither up to that time." (Rel. Seg. de 
Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, p. 3S.) " Cortes wrote," says Bernal Diaz, " as 
he informed us, an accurate report, but we did not see his letter." 
(Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 53.) (Also, Oviedo, Hist, de las Ind., 
MS., lib. 33, cap. 1, and Gomara, ut supra.) Were it not for these 
positive testimonies, one might suppose that the Carta de Vera Cruz 
had suggested an imaginary letter of Cortes. Indeed, the copy of the 
former document belonging to the Spanish Academy of History — 
and perhaps the original at Vienna — bears the erroneous title of 
" Primera Relacion de Cortes."* 

* [There can be little doubt that the " Letter of Vera Cruz" is the 
document referred to by Cortes, writing in October, 1520, as the 
" muy larga y particular Relacion" which he had "despatched" to 
the emperor in the summer of the preceding year. This language 
would not necessarily imply that the letter so described bore his own 
signature, while it was a natural mode of designating one of which he 
was the real author. It is easy to understand why, holding as yet 
no direct commission from the crown, he should have been less solicit- 
ous to appear as the narrator of his own exploits than to give them 
an appearance of official sanction and cover up his irregularity in not 
addressing his report to Velasquez, the official superior from whose 
control he was seeking to emancipate himself. Nor is it necessary, in 
accepting this hypothesis, to reject the statement of Bernal Diaz that 
Cortes sent to the emperor a relation under his own hand which he did 
not show to his companions. It seems to have been his habit on sub- 



chaplain, Gomara. The importance of the document 
has doubtless been much overrated ; and, should it 
ever come to light, it will probably be found to add 
little of interest to the matter contained in the letter 
from Vera Cruz, which has formed the basis of the 
preceding portion of our narrative. Cortes had no 
sources of information beyond those open to the authors 
of the latter document. He was even less full and 
frank in his communications, if it be true that he sup- 
pressed all notice of the discoveries of his two imme- 
diate predecessors." 

The magistrates of the Villa Rica, in their epistle, 
went over the same ground with Cortes ; concluding 
with an emphatic representation of the misconduct of 
Velasquez, whose venality, extortion, and selfish de- 
votion to his personal interests, to the exclusion of 
those of his sovereigns as well as of his own followers, 
they placed in a most clear and unenviable light. 12 

" This is the imputation of Bernal Diaz, reported on hearsay, as 
he admits he never saw the letter himself. Hist, de la Conquista, 
cap. 54. 

12 " Fingiendo mill cautelas," says Las Casas, politely, of this part 
of the letter, "y afirmando otras muchas falsedades e mentiras"l 
Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 122. 

sequent occasions, when sending a detailed report, to accompany it 
with a briefer and more private letter, giving a summary of what was 
contained in the longer document, sometimes with the addition of 
other matter, to be read by the emperor himself. One such letter, 
cited hereafter (vol. iii. p. 266, note), mentions "una relacion bien 
larga y particular," which he was sending under the same date. That 
letters of this kind should not always have been preserved can excite 
no surprise; but it is highly improbable that the same fate should 
have befallen a full official report, the first of a series otherwise complete 
and disseminated by means of copies. — Ed.] 


They implored the government not to sanction his in- 
terference with the new colony, which would be fatal 
to its welfare, but to commit the undertaking to Her- 
nando Cortes, as the man most capable, by his ex- 
perience and conduct, of bringing it to a glorious 
termination. 13 

With this letter went also another in the name of the 
citizen-soldiers of Villa Rica, tendering their dutiful 
submission to the sovereigns, and requesting the con- 
firmation of their proceedings, above all, that of Cortes 
as their general. 

The selection of the agents for the mission was a 
delicate matter, as on the result might depend the 
future fortunes of the colony and its commander. 

«3 This document is of the greatest value and interest, coming as it 
does from the best-instructed persons in the camp. It presents an 
elaborate record of all then known of the countries they had visited, 
and of the principal movements of the army, to the time of the founda- 
tion of the Villa Rica. The writers conciliate our confidence by the 
circumspect tone of their narration. " Querer dar," they say, "& 
Vuestra Magestad todas las particularidades de esta tierra y gente de 
ella, podria ser que en algo se errase la relacion, porque muchas de 
ellas no se han visto mas de por informaciones de los naturales de 
ella, y por esto no nos entremetemos a dar mas de aquello que por 
muy cierto y verdadero Vras. Reales Altezas podran mandar tener." 
The account given of Velasquez, however, must be considered as an 
ex parte testimony, and, as such, admitted with great reserve. It was 
essential to their own vindication, to vindicate Cortes. The letter has 
never been printed. The original exists, as above stated, in the Im- 
perial Library at Vienna. The copy in my possession, covering more 
than sixty pages folio, is taken from that of the Academy of History 
at Madrid.* 

* [The letter has since been printed, from the original at Vienna, in 
the Col. de Doc. ined. para la Hist, de Espafia, torn. i. — ED.] 


Cort6s intrusted the affair to two cavaliers on whom 
he could rely ; Francisco de Montejo, the ancient part 
tisan of Velasquez, and Alonso Hernandez de Puerto- 
carrero. The latter officer was a near kinsman of the 
count of Medellin, and it was hoped his high connec- 
tions might secure a favorable influence at court. 

Together with the treasure, which seemed to verify 
the assertion that "the land teemed with gold as abun- 
dantly as that whence Solomon drew the same precious 
metal for his temple," 14 several Indian manuscripts 
were sent. Some were of cotton, others of the Mexi- 
can agave. Their unintelligible characters, says a chron- 
icler, excited little interest in the Conquerors. As 
evidence of intellectual culture, hoAvever, they formed 
higher objects of interest to a philosophic mind than 
those costly fabrics which attested only the mechanical 
ingenuity of the nation. 15 Four Indian slaves were 
added as specimens of the natives. They had been 
rescued from the cages in which they were confined for 
sacrifice. One of the best vessels of the fleet was 
selected for the voyage, manned by fifteen seamen, 
and placed under the direction of the pilot Alaminos. 
He was directed to hold his course through the Bahama 
channel, north of Cuba, or Fernandina, as it was then 
called, and on no account to touch at that island, or 
any other in the Indian Ocean. With these instruc- 

M " A nuestra parecer se debe creer, que ai en esta tierra tanto 
quanto en aquella de donde se dize aver llevado Salomon el oro para 
el templo." Carta de Vera Cruz, MS. 

J 5 Peter Martyr, pre-eminent above his contemporaries for the en- 
lightened views he took of the new discoveries, devotes half a chapter 
to the Indian manuscripts, in which he recognized the evidence of a 
civilization analogous to the Egyptian. De Orbe Novo, dec. 4, cap. 8. 
Vol. I. — q 31 


tions, the good ship took its departure on the 26th of 
July, freighted with the treasures and the good wishes 
of the community of the Villa Rica de Vera Cruz. 

After a quick run the emissaries made the island of 
Cuba, and, in direct disregard of orders, anchored 
before Marien, on the northern side of the island. 
This was done to accommodate Montejo, who wished 
to visit a plantation owned by him in the neighbor- 
hood. While off the port, a sailor got on shore, and, 
crossing the island to St. Jago, the capital, spread 
everywhere tidings of the expedition, until they reached 
the ears of Velasquez. It was the first intelligence 
which had been received of the armament since its 
departure ; and, as the governor listened to the recital, 
it would not be easy to paint the mingled emotions 
of curiosity, astonishment, and wrath which agitated 
his bosom. In the first sally of passion, he poured a 
'storm of invective on the heads of his secretary and 
treasurer, the friends of Cortes, who had recommended 
him as the leader of the expedition. After somewhat 
relieving himself in this way, he despatched two fast- 
sailing vessels to Marien with orders to seize the rebel 
ship, and, in case of her departure, to follow and 
overtake her. 

But before the ships could reach that port the bird 
had flown, and was far on her way across the broad 
Atlantic. Stung with mortification at this fresh disap- 
pointment, Velasquez wrote letters of indignant com- 
plaint to the government at home, and to the Hierony- 
mite fathers in Hispaniola, demanding redress. He 
obtained little satisfaction from the latter. He resolved, 
however, to take the matter into his own hands, and 


set about making formidable preparations for another 
squadron, which should be more than a match for that 
under his rebellious officer. He was indefatigable in his 
exertions, visiting every part of the island, and straining 
all his resources to effect his purpose. The prepara- 
tions were on a scale that necessarily consumed many 

Meanwhile the little vessel was speeding her pros- 
perous way across the waters, and, after touching at 
one of the Azores, came safely into the harbor of St. 
Lucar, in the month of October. However long it 
may appear in the more perfect nautical science of our 
day, it was reckoned a fair voyage for that. Of what 
befell the commissioners on their arrival, their recep- 
tion at court, and the sensation caused by their intelli- 
gence, I defer the account to a future chapter. 16 

Shortly after the departure of the commissioners, an 
affair occurred of a most unpleasant nature. A number 
of persons, with the priest Juan Diaz at their head, 
ill-affected, from some cause or other, towards the ad- 
ministration of Cortes, or not relishing the hazardous 
expedition before them, laid a plan to seize one of 
the vessels, make the best of their way to Cuba, and 
report to the governor the fate of the armament. It 
was conducted with so much secrecy that the party had 
got their provisions, water, and everything necessary 
for the voyage, on board, without detection ; when the 

16 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 54-57. — Gomara, Cro- 
nica, cap. 40. — Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 5, cap. 14. — Carta 
de Vera Cruz, MS. — Martyr's copious information was chiefly derived 
from his conversations with Alaminos and the two envoys, on their 
arrival at court. De Orbe Novo, dec. 4, cap. 6, et alibi ; also Idem, 
Opus Epistolarum (Amstelodami, 1670), ep. 650. 


conspiracy was betrayed, on the very night they were 
to sail, by one of their own number, who repented the 
part he had taken in it. The general caused the per- 
sons implicated to be instantly apprehended. An ex- 
amination was instituted. The guilt of the parties was 
placed beyond a doubt. Sentence of death was passed 
on two of the ringleaders ; another, the pilot, was 
condemned to lose his feet, and several others to be 
whipped. The priest, probably the most guilty of the 
whole, claiming the usual benefit of clergy, was per- 
mitted to escape. One of those condemned to the 
gallows was named Escudero, the very alguacil who, 
the reader may remember, so stealthily apprehended 
Cortes before the sanctuary in Cuba. 17 The general, 
on signing the death-warrants, was heard to exclaim, 
"Would that I had never learned to write !" It was 
not the first time, it was remarked, that the exclamation 
had been uttered in similar circumstances. 18 

The arrangements being now. finally settled at the 
Villa Rica, Cortes sent forward Alvarado, with a large 
part of the army, to Cempoalla, where he soon after 
joined them with the remainder. The late affair of 
the conspiracy seems to have made a deep impression 
on his mind. It showed him that there were timid 
spirits in the camp on whom he could not rely, and 

z 7 See ante, p. 239. 

18 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 57. — Oviedo, Hist, de 
las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 2. — Las Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., 
lib. 3, cap. 122. — Demanda de Narvaez, MS. — Rel. Seg. de Cortes, 
ap. Lorenzana, p. 41. — It was the exclamation of Nero, as reported 
by Suetonius. " Et cum de supplicio cujusdam capite damnati ut ex 
more subscriberet, admoneretur, ' Quam vellem,' inquit, ' nescire 
literas !' " Lib. 6, cap. 10. 


3 6 5 

who, he feared, might spread the seeds of disaffection 
among their companions. Even the more resolute, on 
any occasion of disgust or disappointment hereafter, 
might falter in purpose, and, getting possession of the 
vessels, abandon the enterprise. This was already too 
vast, and the odds were too formidable, to authorize 
expectation of success with diminution of numbers. 
Experience showed that this was always to be appre- 
hended while means of escape were at hand. 19 The 
best chance for success was to cut off these means. 
He came to the daring resolution to destroy the fleet, 
without the knowledge of his army. 

When arrived at Cempoalla, he communicated his 
design to a few of his devoted adherents, who entered 
warmly into his views. Through them he readily per- 
suaded the pilots, by means of those golden arguments 
which weigh more than any other with ordinary minds, 
to make such a report of the condition of the fleet as 
suited his purpose. The ships, they said, were griev- 
ously racked by the heavy gales they had encountered, 
and, what was worse, the worms had eaten into their 
sides and bottoms until most of them were not sea- 
worthy, and some, indeed, could scarcely now be kept 

Cortes received the communication with surprise ; 
"for he could well dissemble," observes Las Casas, 

19 " Y porque," says Cortes, " demas de los que por ser criados y 
amigos de Diego Velasquez tenian voluntad de salir de la Tierra, habia 
otros, que por verla tan grande, y de tanta gente, y tal, y ver los pocos 
Espanoles qae eramos, estaban del mismo proposito ; creyendo, que 
si alii los navios dejasse, se me alzarian con ellos, y yendose todos log 
que de esta voluntad estavan, yo quedaria casi solo." 



with his usual friendly comment, "when it suited his 
interests." "If it be so," he exclaimed, "we must 
make the best of it ! Heaven's will be done !" M He 
then ordered five of the worst conditioned to be dis- 
mantled, their cordage, sails, iron, and whatever was 
movable, to be brought on shore, and the ships to be 
sunk. A survey was made of the others, and, on a 
similar report, four more were condemned in the same 
manner. Only one small vessel remained ! 

When the intelligence reached the troops in Cem- 
poalla, it caused the deepest consternation. They saw 
themselves cut off by a single blow from friends, family, 
country ! The stoutest hearts quailed before the pros- 
pect of being thus abandoned on a hostile shore, a 
handful of men arrayed against a formidable empire. 
When the news arrived of the destruction of the five 
vessels first condemned, they had acquiesced in it as a 
necessary measure, knowing the mischievous activity 
of the insects in these tropical seas. But, when this 
was followed by the loss of the remaining four, sus- 
picions of the truth flashed on their minds. They felt 
they were betrayed. Murmurs, at first deep, swelled 
louder and louder, menacing open mutiny. " Their 
general," they said, "had led them like cattle to be 
butchered in the shambles !" 2I The affair wore a most 

20 " Mostro quando se lo dixeron mucho sentimiento Cortes, porque 
savia bien hacer fingimientos quando le era provechoso, y rrespondidles 
que mirasen vien en ello, e que si no estavan para navegar que diesen 
gracias & Dios por ello, pues no se podia hacer mas." Las Casas, 
Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 122. 

21 " Decian, que los queria meter en el matadero." Gomara, Cr6- 
nica, cap. 42. 


alarming aspect. In no situation was Cortes ever ex- 
posed to greater danger from his soldiers." 

His presence of mind did not desert him at this 
crisis. He called his men together, and, employing 
the tones of persuasion rather than authority, assured 
them that a survey of the ships showed they were not 
fit for service. If he had ordered them to be destroyed, 
they should consider, also, that his was the greatest 
sacrifice, for they were his property, — all, indeed, he 
possessed in the world. The troops, on the other 
hand, would derive one great advantage from it, by the 
addition of a hundred able-bodied recruits, before re- 
quired to man the vessels. But, even if the fleet had 
been saved, it could have been of little service in their 
present expedition ; since they would not need it if 
they succeeded, while they would be too far in the in- 
terior to profit by it if they failed. He besought them 
to turn their thoughts in another direction. To be 
thus calculating chances and means of escape was un- 
worthy of brave souls. They had set their hands to 
the work ; to look back, as they advanced, would be 
their ruin. They had only to resume their former con- 
fidence in themselves and their general, and success 
was certain. "As for me," he concluded, "I have 
chosen my part. I will remain here, while there is 
one to bear me company. If there be any so craven 
as to shrink from sharing the dangers of our glo- 
rious enterprise, let them go home, in God's name. 

22 " Al cavo lo ovieron de sentir la gente y ayna se le amotinaran 
muchos, y esta fue uno de los peligros que pasaron por Cortes de 
muchos que para matallo de los mismos Espanoles estuvo." Las 
Casas, Hist, de las Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 122. 


There is still one vessel left. Let them take that 
and return to Cuba. They can tell there how they 
deserted their commander and their comrades, and 
patiently wait till we return loaded with the spoils of 
the Aztecs." 23 

The politic orator had touched the right chord in 
the bosoms of the soldiers. As he spoke, their resent- 
ment gradually died away. The faded visions of future 
riches and glory, rekindled by his eloquence, again 
floated before their imaginations. The first shock 
over, they felt ashamed of their temporary distrust. 
The enthusiasm for their leader revived, for they felt 
that under his banner only they could hope for victory ; 
and, as he concluded, they testified the revulsion of 
their feelings by making the air ring with their shouts, 
" To Mexico ! to Mexico !" 

The destruction of his fleet by Cortes is, perhaps, the 
most remarkable passage in the life of this remarkable 
man. History, indeed, affords examples of a similar 
expedient in emergencies somewhat similar ; but none 
where the chances of success were so precarious and 
defeat would be so disastrous. 24 Had he failed, it 

=3 " Que ninguno seria tan cobarde y tan pusilanime que queria 
estimar su vida mas que la suya, ni de tan debil corazon que dudase 
de ir con el a Mexico, donde tanto bien le estaba aparejado, y que si 
acaso se determinaba alguno de dejar de hacer este se podia ir bendito 
de Dios a Cuba en el navio que habia dexado, de que antes de mucho 
se arrepentiria, y pelaria las barbas, viendo la buena ventura que 
esperaba le sucederia." Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 82. 

"4 Perhaps the most remarkable of these examples is that of Julian, 
who, in his unfortunate Assyrian invasion, burnt the fleet which had 
carried him up the Tigris. The story is told by Gibbon, who shows 
very satisfactorily that the fleet would have proved a hinderance rather 


might well seem an act of madness. Yet it was the 
fruit of deliberate calculation. He had set fortune, 
fame, life itself, all upon the cast, and must abide the 
issue. There was no alternative in his mind but to 
succeed or perish. The measure he adopted greatly- 
increased the chance of success. But to carry it into 
execution, in the face of an incensed and desperate 
soldiery, was an act of resolution that has few parallels 
in history. 2S 

than a help to the emperor in his further progress. See History of the 
Decline and Fall, vol. ix. p. 177, of Milman's excellent edition. 

2 5 The account given in the text of the destruction of the fleet is not 
that of Bernal Diaz, who states it to have been accomplished not only 
with the knowledge, but entire approbation of the army, though at 
the suggestion of Cortes. (Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 58.) This 
version is sanctioned by Dr. Robertson (History of America, vol. ii. 
pp. 253, 254). One should be very slow to depart from the honest 
record of the old soldier, especially when confirmed by the discrimi- 
nating judgment of the Historian of America. But Cortes expressly 
declares in his letter to the emperor that he ordered the vessels to be 
sunk, without the knowledge of his men, from the apprehension that, 
if the means of escape were open, the timid and disaffected might at 
some future time avail themselves of them. (Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. 
Lorenzana, p. 41.) The cavaliers Montejo and Puertocarrero, on their 
visit to Spain, stated, in their depositions, that the general destroyed 
the fleet on information received from the pilots. (Declaraciones, 
MSS.) Narvaez in his accusation of Cortes, and Las Casas, speak 
of the act in terms of unqualified reprobation, charging him, moreover, 
with bribing the pilots to bore holes in the bottoms of the ships in 
order to disable them. (Demanda de Narvaez, MS. — Hist, de las 
Indias, MS., lib. 3, cap. 122.) The same account of the transaction, 
though with a very different commentary as to its merits, is repeated 
by Oviedo (Hist, de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 2), Gomara (Cronica, 
cap. 42), and Peter Martyr (De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 1), all of 
whom had access to the best sources of information. The affair, so 
remarkable as the act of one individual, becomes absolutely incredi- 
ble when considered as the result of so many independent wills. It 


is not improbable that Bernal Diaz, from his known devotion to the 
cause, may have been one of the few to whom Cortes confided his 
purpose. The veteran, in writing his narrative, many years after, may 
have mistaken a part for the whole, and in his zeal to secure to the 
army a full share of the glory of the expedition, too exclusively appro- 
priated by the general (a great object, as he tells us, of his history), 
may have distributed among his comrades the credit of an exploit 
which, in this instance, at least, properly belonged to their commander. 
Whatever be the cause of the discrepancy, his solitary testimony can 
hardly be sustained against the weight of contemporary evidence from 
such competent sources.* 

* [Prescott's account of the circumstances attending the destruc- 
tion of the fleet has been contested at great length by Senor Ramirez, 
who insists on accepting the statements of Bernal Diaz without quali- 
fication and ascribing to the army an equal share with the general 
in the merit of the act. He remarks with truth that the language of 
Cortes — " Tuve manera, como so color que los dichos navios no esta- 
ban para navegar, los eche a la costa" — contains no express declara- 
tion, as stated by Prescott, that the order for the fleet to be sunk was 
given without the knowledge of the army, but would, at the most, lead 
to an inference to that effect. " Nor can even this," he adds, " be 
admitted, since, in order to persuade the soldiers that the ships were 
unfit for sailing, he must have had an understanding with the mariners 
who were to make the statement, and with his friends who were to 
confirm it.'' This is, however, very inefficient reasoning. It is not 
pretended that Cortes had no confidants and agents in the transaction. 
The question of real importance is, Was the resolution taken, as Bernal 
Diaz asserts, openly and by the advice of the whole army, — " clara- 
mente, por consejo de todos los demas soldados' ' ? or was it formed by 
Cortes, and were measures taken for giving effect to it, without any 
communication with the mass of his followers ? The newly discovered 
relation of Tapia is cited by Senor Ramirez as "in perfect accordance 
with the testimony of Diaz and destructive of every supposition of 
mystery and secrecy." Yet Tapia says, with Herrera, that Cortes 
caused holes to be bored in the ships and their unserviceable condition 
to be reported to him, and thereupon gave orders for their destruction ; 
no mention being made of the concurrence of the soldiers at any stage 
of the proceedings. — Ed.] 



Fray Bartolome de las Casas, Bishop of Chiapa, whose " History of 
the Indies " forms an important authority for the preceding pages, was 
one of the most remarkable men of the sixteenth century. He was 
born at Seville in 1474. His father accompanied Columbus, as a 
common soldier, in his first voyage to the New World; and he 
acquired wealth enough by his vocation to place his son at the Uni- 
versity of Salamanca. During his residence there, he was attended 
by an Indian page, whom his father had brought with him from His- 
paniola. Thus the uncompromising advocate for freedom began his 
career as the owner of a slave himself. But he did not long remain 
so, for his slave was one of those subsequently liberated by the gener- 
ous commands of Isabella. 

In 1498 he completed his studies in law and divinity, took his 
degree of licentiate, and in 1502 accompanied Oviedo, in the most 
brilliant armada which had been equipped for the Western World. 
Eight years after, he was admitted to priest's orders in St. Domingo, 
an event somewhat memorable, since he was the first person conse- 
crated in that holy office in the colonies. On the occupation of Cuba 
by the Spaniards, Las Casas passed over to that island, where he ob- 
tained a curacy in a small settlement. He soon, however, made him- 
self known to the governor, Velasquez, by the fidelity with which he 
discharged his duties, and especially by the influence which his mild 
and benevolent teaching obtained for him over the Indians. Through 
his intimacy with the governor, Las Casas had the means of amelior- 
ating the condition of the conquered race, and from this time he may 
be said to have consecrated all his energies to this one great object. 
At this period, the scheme of repartimientos, introduced soon after the 
discoveries of Columbus, was in full operation, and the aboriginal 
population of the islands was rapidly melting away under a system of 
oppression which has been seldom paralleled in the annals of man- 
kind. Las Casas, outraged at the daily exhibition of crime and misery, 
returned to Spain to obtain some redress from government. Ferdi- 
nand died soon after his arrival. Charles was absent, but the reins 
were held by Cardinal Ximenes, who listened to the complaints of the 
benevolent missionary, and, with his characteristic vigor, instituted a 
commission of three Hieronymite friars, with full authority, as already 
noticed in the text, to reform abuses. Las Casas was honored, for his 
exertions, with the title of" Protector General of the Indians." 

The new commissioners behaved with great discretion. But their 
office was one of consummate difficulty, as it required time to intro- 


duce important changes in established institutions. The ardent and 
impetuous temper of Las Casas, disdaining every consideration of 
prudence, overleaped all these obstacles, and chafed under what he 
considered the lukewarm and temporizing policy of the commissioners. 
As he was at no pains to conceal his disgust, the parties soon came to 
a misunderstanding with each other ; and Las Casas again returned 
to the mother-country, to stimulate the government, if possible, to 
more effectual measures for the protection of the natives. 

He found the country under the administration of the Flemings, 
who discovered from the first a wholesome abhorrence of the abuses 
practised in the colonies, and who, in short, seemed inclined to tol- 
erate no peculation or extortion but their own. They acquiesced, 
without much difficulty, in the recommendations of Las Casas, who 
proposed to relieve the natives by sending out Castilian laborers and 
by importing negro slaves into the islands. This last proposition has 
brought heavy obloquy on the head of its author, who has been freely 
accused of having thus introduced negro slavery into the New World. 
Others, with equal groundlessness, have attempted to vindicate his 
memory from the reproach of having recommended the measure at 
all. Unfortunately for the latter assertion, Las Casas, in his History 
of the Indies, confesses, with deep regret and humiliation, his advice 
on this occasion, founded on the most erroneous views, as he frankly 
states ; since, to use his own words, " the same law applies equally to 
the negro as to the Indian." But, so far from having introduced slavery 
by this measure into the islands, the importation of blacks there dates 
from the beginning of the century. It was recommended by some of 
the wisest and most benevolent persons in the colony, as the means of 
diminishing the amount of human suffering ; since the African was 
more fitted by his constitution to endure the climate and the severe 
toil imposed on the slave, than the feeble and effeminate islander. It 
was a suggestion of humanity, however mistaken, and, considering the 
circumstances under which it occurred, and the age, it may well be 
forgiven in Las Casas, especially taking into view that, as he became 
more enlightened himself, he was so ready to testify his regret at 
having unadvisedly countenanced the measure. 

The experiment recommended by Las Casas was made, but, through 
the apathy of Fonseca, president of the Indian Council, not heartily, — 
and it failed. The good missionary now proposed another and much 
bolder scheme. He requested that a large tract of country in Tierra 
Firme, in the neighborhood of the famous pearl-fisheries, might be 



ceded to him for the purpose of planting a colony there, and of con- 
verting the natives to Christianity. He required that none of the 
authorities of the islands, and no military force, especially, should be 
allowed to interfere with his movements. He pledged himself by 
peaceful means alone to accomplish all that had been done by vio- 
lence in other quarters. He asked only that a certain number of 
laborers should attend him, invited by a bounty from government, and 
that he might further be accompanied by fifty Dominicans, who were 
to be distinguished like himself by a peculiar dress, that should lead 
the natives to suppose them a different race of men from the Span- 
iards. This proposition was denounced as chimerical and fantastic by 
some, whose own opportunities of observation entitled their judgment 
to respect. These men declared the Indian, from his nature, incapa- 
ble of civilization. The question was one of such moment that Charles 
the Fifth ordered the discussion to be conducted before him. The 
opponent of Las Casas was first heard, when the good missionary, in 
answer, warmed by the noble cause he was to maintain, and nothing 
daunted by the august presence in which he stood, delivered himself 
with a fervent eloquence that went directly to the hearts of his audi- 
tors. " The Christian religion," he concluded, " is equal in its opera- 
tion, and is accommodated to every nation on the globe. It robs no 
one of his freedom, violates none of his inherent rights, on the ground 
that he is a slave by nature, as pretended; and it well becomes your 
Majesty to banish so monstrous an oppression from your kingdoms in 
the beginning of your reign, that the Almighty may make it long and 

In the end Las Casas prevailed. He was furnished with the men 
and means for establishing his colony, and in 1520 embarked for 
America. But the result was a lamentable failure. The country as- 
signed to him lay in the neighborhood of a Spanish settlement, which 
had already committed some acts of violence on the natives. To quell 
the latter, now thrown into commotion, an armed force was sent by 
the young " Admiral " from Hispaniola. The very people, among 
whom Las Casas was to appear as the messenger of peace, were thus 
involved in deadly strife with his countrymen. The enemy had been 
before him in his own harvest. While waiting for the close of these 
turbulent scenes, the laborers, whom he had taken out with him, dis- 
persed, in despair of effecting their object. And after an attempt to 
pursue, with his faithful Dominican brethren, the work of colonization 
further, other untoward circumstances compelled them to abandon the 
Vol. I. 32 



project altogether. Its unfortunate author, overwhelmed with chagrin, 
took refuge in the Dominican monastery in the island of Hispaniola. 
The failure of the enterprise should, no doubt, be partly ascribed to 
circumstances beyond the control of its projector. Yet it is impos- 
sible not to recognize in the whole scheme, and in the conduct of it, 
the hand of one much more familiar with books than men, who, in the 
seclusion of the cloister, had meditated and matured his benevolent 
plans, without fully estimating the obstacles that lay in their way, and 
who counted too confidently on meeting the same generous enthu- 
siasm in others which glowed in his own bosom. 

He found, in his disgrace, the greatest consolation and sympathy 
ffom the brethren of St. Dominic, who stood forth as the avowed 
champions of the Indians on all occasions, and showed themselves as 
devoted to the cause of freedom in the New World as they had been 
hostile to it in the Old. Las Casas soon became a member of their 
order, and, in his monastic retirement, applied himself for many years 
to the performance of his spiritual duties, and the composition of 
various works, all directed, more or less, to vindicate the rights of the 
Indians. Here, too, he commenced his great work, the " Historia 
general de las Indias," which he pursued, at intervals of leisure, from 
1527 till a few years before his death. His time, however, was not 
wholly absorbed by these labors ; and he found means to engage in 
several laborious missions. He preached the gospel among the natives 
of Nicaragua and Guatemala, and succeeded in converting and re- 
ducing to obedience some wild tribes in the latter province, who had 
defied the arms of his countrymen. In all these pious labors he was 
sustained by his Dominican brethren. At length, in 1539, he crossed 
the waters again, to seek further assistance and recruits among the 
members of his order. 

A great change had taken place in the board that now presided over 
the colonial department. The cold and narrow-minded Fonseca, who, 
during his long administration, had, it may be truly said, shown him- 
self the enemy of every great name and good measure connected 
with the Indians, had died. His place, as president of the Indian 
Council, was filled by Loaysa, Charles's confessor. This functionary, 
general of the Dominicans, gave ready audience to Las Casas, and 
showed a good will to his proposed plans of reform. Charles, too, 
now grown older, seemed to feel more deeply the responsibility of his 
station, and the necessity of redressing the wrongs, too long tolerated, 
of his American subjects. The state of the colonies became a common 



topic of discussion, not only in the council, but in the court ; and the 
representations of Las Casas made an impression that manifested 
itself in the change of sentiment more clearly every day. He promoted 
this by the publication of some of his writings at this time, and espe- 
cially of his " Brevisima Relacion," or Short Account of the Destruc- 
tion of the Indies, in which he sets before the reader the manifold 
atrocities committed by his countrymen in different parts of the New 
World in the prosecution of their conquests. It is a tale of woe. 
Every line of the work may be said to be written in blood. However 
good the motives of its author, we may regret that the book was ever 
written. He would have been certainly right not to spare his country- 
men ; to exhibit their misdeeds in their true colors, and by this appall- 
ing picture — for such it would have been — to have recalled the nation, 
and those who governed it, to a proper sense of the iniquitous career 
it was pursuing on the other side of the water. But, to produce a 
more striking effect, he has lent a willing ear to every tale of violence 
and rapine, and magnified the amount to a degree which borders on 
the ridiculous. The wild extravagance of his numerical estimates is 
of itself sufficient to shake confidence in the accuracy of his statements 
generally. Yet the naked truth was too startling in itself to demand 
the aid of exaggeration. The book found great favor with foreigners ; 
was rapidly translated into various languages, and ornamented with 
characteristic designs, which seemed to put into action all the recorded 
atrocities of the text. It excited somewhat different feelings in his 
own countrymen, particularly the people of the colonies, who con- 
sidered themselves the subjects of a gross, however undesigned, mis- 
representation ; and in his future intercourse with them it contributed, 
no doubt, to diminish his influence and consequent usefulness, by the 
spirit of alienation, and even resentment, which it engendered. 

Las Casas' honest intentions, his enlightened views and long expe- 
rience, gained him deserved credit at home. This was visible in the 
important regulations made at this time for the better government of 
the colonies, and particularly in respect to the aborigines. A code of 
laws, Las Nucvas Leyes, was passed, having for their avowed object 
the enfranchisement of this unfortunate race ; and in the wisdom and 
humanity of its provisions it is easy to recognize the hand of the Pro- 
tector of the Indians. The history of Spanish colonial legislation is 
the history of the impotent struggles of the government in behalf of 
the natives, against the avarice and cruelty of its subjects. It proves 
that an empire powerful at home — and Spain then was so — may 

376 LAS CAS AS. 

be so widely extended that its authority shall scarcely be felt in its 

The government testified their sense of the signal services of Las 
Casas by promoting him to the bishopric of Cuzco, one of the richest 
sees in the colonies. But the disinterested soul of the missionary did 
not covet riches or preferment. He rejected the proffered dignity 
without hesitation. Yet he could not refuse the bishopric of Chiapa, 
a country which, from the poverty and ignorance of its inhabitants, 
offered a good field for his spiritual labors. In 1544, though at the 
advanced age of seventy, he took upon himself these new duties, and 
embarked, for the fifth and last time, for the shores of America. His 
fame had preceded him. The colonists looked on his coming with 
apprehension, regarding him as the real author of the new code, which 
struck at their ancient immunities, and which he would be likely to 
enforce to the letter. Everywhere he was received with coldness. 
In some places his person was menaced with violence. But the ven- 
erable presence of the prelate, his earnest expostulations, which flowed 
so obviously from conviction, and his generous self-devotion, so re- 
gardless of personal considerations, preserved him from this outrage. 
Yet he showed no disposition to conciliate his opponents by what he 
deemed an unworthy concession ; and he even stretched the arm of 
authority so far as to refuse the sacraments to any who still held an 
Indian in bondage. This high-handed measure not only outraged 
the planters, but incurred the disapprobation of his own brethren in 
the Church. Three years were spent in disagreeable altercation with- 
out coming to any decision. The Spaniards, to borrow their accus- 
tomed phraseology on these occasions, " obeying the law, but not 
fulfilling it," applied to the court for further instructions ; and the 
bishop, no longer supported by his own brethren, thwarted by the 
colonial magistrates, and outraged by the people, relinquished a post 
where his presence could be no longer useful, and returned to spend 
the remainder of his days in tranquillity at home. 

Yet, though withdrawn to his Dominican convent, he did not pass 
his hours in slothful seclusion. He again appeared as the champion 
of Indian freedom in the famous controversy with Sepulveda, one of 
the most acute scholars of the time, and far surpassing Las Casas in 
elegance and correctness of composition. But the Bishop of Chiapa 
was his superior in argument, at least in this discussion, where he had 
right and reason on his side. In his "Thirty Propositions," as they 
are called, in which he sums up the several points of his case, he main- 



tains that the circumstance of infidelity in religion cannot deprive a 
nation of its political rights; that the Holy See, in its grant of the New 
World to the Catholic sovereigns, designed only to confer the right 
of converting its inhabitants to Christianity, and of thus winning a 
peaceful authority over them ; and that no authority could be valid 
which rested on other foundations. This was striking at the root of 
the colonial empire as assumed by Castile. But the disinterested 
views of Las Casas, the respect entertained for his principles, and the 
general conviction, it may be, of the force of his arguments, prevented 
the court from taking umbrage at their import, or from pressing them 
to their legitimate conclusion. While the writings of his adversary 
were interdicted from publication, he had the satisfaction to see his 
own printed and circulated in every quarter. 

From this period his time was distributed among his religious duties, 
his studies, and the composition of his works, especially his History. 
His constitution, naturally excellent, had been strengthened by a life 
of temperance and toil ; and he retained his faculties unimpaired to 
the last. He died after a short illness, July, 1566, at the great age of 
ninety-two, in his monastery of Atocha, at Madrid. 

The character of Las Casas may be inferred from his career. He 
was one of those to whose gifted minds are revealed those glorious 
moral truths which, like the lights of heaven, are fixed and the same 
forever, but which, though now familiar, were hidden from all but a 
few penetrating intellects by the general darkness of the time in which 
he lived. He was a reformer, and had the virtues and errors of a 
reformer. He was inspired by one great and glorious idea. This was 
the key to all his thoughts, to all that he said and wrote, to every act 
of his long life. It was this which urged him to lift the voice of rebuke 
in the presence of princes, to brave the menaces of an infuriated 
populace, to cross seas, to traverse mountains and deserts, to incur 
the alienation of friends, the hostility of enemies, to endure obloquy, 
insult, and persecution. It was this, too, which made him reckless of 
obstacles, led him to count too confidently on the co-operation of 
others, animated his discussion, sharpened his invective, too often 
steeped his pen in the gall of personal vituperation, led him into gross 
exaggeration and over-coloring in his statements, and a blind credulity 
of evil that rendered him unsafe as a counsellor and unsuccessful in 
the practical concerns of life. His views were pure and elevated. 
But his manner of enforcing them was not always so commendable. 
This may be gathered not only from the testimony of the colonists 


generally, who, as parties interested, may be supposed to have been 
prejudiced, but from that of the members of his own profession, per- 
sons high in office, and of integrity beyond suspicion, not to add that of 
missionaries engaged in the same good work with himself. These, in 
their letters and reported conversations, charged the Bishop of Chiapa 
with an arrogant, uncharitable temper, which deluded his judgment, 
and vented itself in unwarrantable crimination against such as resisted 
his projects or differed from him in opinion. Las Casas, in short, was 
a man. But, if he had the errors of humanity, he had virtues that 
rarely belong to it. The best commentary on his character is the 
estimation which he obtained in the court of his sovereign. A liberal 
pension was settled on him after his last return from America, which 
he chiefly expended on charitable objects. No measure of importance 
relating to the Indians was taken without his advice. He lived to see 
the fruits of his efforts in the positive amelioration of their condition, 
and in the popular admission of those great truths which it had been 
the object of his life to unfold. And who shall say how much of the 
successful efforts and arguments since made in behalf of persecuted 
humanity may be traced to the example and the writings of this illus- 
trious philanthropist? 

His compositions were numerous, most of them of no great length. 
Some were printed in his time ; others have since appeared, especially 
in the French translation of Llorente. His great work, which occu- 
pied him at intervals for more than thirty years, the Historia general 
de las Indias, still remains in manuscript. It is in three volumes, 
divided into as many parts, and embraces the colonial history from 
the discovery of the country by Columbus to the year 1520. The 
style of the work, like that of all his writings, is awkward, disjointed, 
and excessively diffuse, abounding in repetitions, irrelevant digressions, 
and pedantic citations. But it is sprinkled over with passages of a 
different kind ; and, when he is roused by the desire to exhibit some 
gross wrong to the natives, his simple language kindles into eloquence, 
and he expounds those great and immutable principles of natural 
justice which in his own day were so little understood. His defect as 
a historian is that he wrote history, like everything else, under the influ- 
ence of one dominant idea. He is always pleading the cause of the 
persecuted native. This gives a coloring to events which passed under 
his own eyes, and filled him with a too easy confidence in those which 
he gathered from the reports of others. Much of the preceding por- 
tion of our narrative which relates to affairs in Cuba must have come 



under his persona] observation. But he seems incapable of shading 
off his early deference to Velasquez, who, as we have noticed, treated 
him, while a poor curate in the island, with peculiar confidence. For 
Cortes, on the other hand, he appears to have felt a profound con- 
tempt. He witnessed the commencement of his career, when he was 
standing, cap in hand, as it were, at the proud governor's door, thank- 
ful even for a smile of recognition. Las Casas remembered all this, 
and, when he saw the Conqueror of Mexico rise into a glory and re- 
nown that threw his former patron into the shade, — and most unfairly, 
as Las Casas deemed, at the expense of that patron,— the good bishop 
could not withhold his indignation, nor speak of him otherwise than 
with a sneer, as a mere upstart adventurer. 

It is the existence of defects like these, and the fear of the mis- 
conception likely to be produced by them, that have so long prevented 
the publication of his history. At his death, he left it to the convent 
of San Gregorio, at Valladolid, with directions that it should not be 
printed for forty years, nor be seen during that time by any layman or 
member of the fraternity. Herrera, however, was permitted to consult 
it, and he liberally transferred its contents to his own volumes, which 
appeared in 1601. The Royal Academy of History revised the first 
volume of Las Casas some years since, with a view to the publication 
of the whole work. But the indiscreet and imaginative style of the 
composition, according to Navarrete, and the consideration that its 
most important facts were already known through other channels, 
induced that body to abandon the design. With deference to their 
judgment, this seems to-me a mistake. Las Casas, with every deduc- 
tion, is one of the great writers of the nation ; great from the im- 
portant truths which he discerned when none else could see them, and 
from the courage with which he proclaimed them to the world. They 
are scattered over his History as well as his other writings. They are 
not, however, the passages transcribed by Herrera. In the statement 
of fact, too, however partial and prejudiced, no one will impeach his 
integrity; and, as an enlightened contemporary, his 'evidence is of 
undeniable value. It is due to the memory of Las Casas that, if his 
work be given to the public at all, it should not be through the 
garbled extracts of one who was no fair interpreter of his opinions. 
Las Casas does not speak for himself in the courtly pages of Herrera. 
Yet the History should not be published without a suitable com- 
mentary to enlighten the student and guard him against anv undue 
prejudices in the writer. We may hope that the entire manuscript will 


one day be given to the world under the auspices of that distinguished 
body which has already done so much in this way for the illustration 
of the national annals. 

The life of Las Casas has been several times written. The two 
memoirs most worthy of notice are that by Llorente, late Secretary of 
the Inquisition, prefixed to his French translation of the bishop's con- 
troversial writings, and that by Quintana, in the third volume of his 
" Espafioles celebres," where it presents a truly noble specimen of 
biographical composition, enriched by a literary criticism as acute as 
it is candid. I have gone to the greater length in this notice, from the 
interesting character of the man, and the little that is known of him to 
the English reader. I have also transferred a passage from his work 
in the original to the Appendix, that the Spanish scholar may form an 
idea of his style of composition. He ceases to be an authority for us 
henceforth, as his account of the expedition of Cortes terminates with 
the destruction of the navy. 










While at Cempoalla, Cortes received a message from 
Escalante, his commander at Villa Rica, informing him 
there were four strange ships hovering off the coast, 
and that they took no notice of his repeated signals. 
This intelligence greatly alarmed the general, who 
feared they might be a squadron sent by the governor 
of Cuba to interfere with his movements. In much 
haste, he set out at the head of a few horsemen, and, 
ordering a party of light infantry to follow, posted 
back to Villa Rica. The rest of the army he left 
in charge of Alvarado and of Gonzalo de Sandoval, 
a young officer who had begun to give evidence of 
the uncommon qualities which have secured to him 
so distinguished a rank among the conquerors of 



Escalante would have persuaded the general, on his 
reaching the town, to take some rest, and allow him to 
go in search of the strangers. But Cortes replied with 
the homely proverb, " A wounded hare takes no nap," r 
and, without stopping to refresh himself or his men, 
pushed on three or four leagues to the north, where he 
understood the ships were at anchor. On the way, he 
fell in with three Spaniards, just landed from them. 
To his eager inquiries whence they came, they replied 
that they belonged to a squadron fitted out by Fran- 
cisco de Garay, governor of Jamaica. This person, 
the year previous, had visited the Florida coast, and 
obtained from Spain — where he had some interest at 
court — authority over the countries he might discover 
in that vicinity. The three men, consisting of a 
notary and two witnesses, had been sent on shore to 
warn their countrymen under Cortes to desist from 
what was considered an encroachment on the terri- 
tories of Garay. Probably neither the governor of 
Jamaica nor his officers had any very precise notion of 
the geography and limits of these territories. 

Cortes saw at once there was nothing to apprehend 
from this quarter. He would have been glad, how- 
ever, if he could by any means have induced the 
crews of the ships to join his expedition. He found 
no difficulty in persuading the notary and his com- 
panions. But when he came in sight of the vessels, 
the people on board, distrusting the good terms on 
which their comrades appeared to be with the Span- 
iards, refused to send their boat ashore. In this di- 
lemma, Cortes had recourse to a stratagem. 

1 " Cabra coja no tenga siesta." 



He ordered three of his own men to exchange dresses 
with the new-comers. He then drew off his little band 
in sight of the vessels, affecting to return to the city. 
In the night, however, he came back to the same place, 
and lay in ambush, directing the disguised Spaniards, 
when the morning broke, and they could be discerned, 
to make signals to those on board. The artifice suc- 
ceeded. A boat put off, filled with armed men, and 
three or four leaped on shore. But they soon detected 
the deceit, and Cortes, springing from his ambush, 
made them prisoners. Their comrades in the boat, 
alarmed, pushed off, at once, for the vessels, which 
soon got under way, leaving those on shore to their 
fate. Thus ended the affair. Cortes returned to Cem- 
poalla, with the addition of half a dozen able-bodied 
recruits, and, what was of more importance, relieved 
in his own mind from the apprehension of interference 
with his operations. 2 

He now made arrangements for his speedy departure 
from the Totonac capital. The forces reserved for the 
expedition amounted to about four hundred foot and 
fifteen horse, with seven pieces of artillery. He ob- 
tained, also, from the cacique of Cempoalla, thirteen 
hundred warriors, and a thousand tamanes, or porters, to 
drag the guns and transport the baggage. He took forty 
more of their principal men as hostages, as well as to 
guide him on the way and serve him by their counsels 
among the strange tribes he was to visit. They were, 

* Oviedo, Hist, de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 1. — Rel. Seg. de 
Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, pp. 42-45. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Con- 
quista, cap. 59, 60. 

Vol. I.— r 33 


in fact, of essential service to him throughout the 
march. 3 

The remainder of his Spanish force he left in garri- 
son at Villa Rica de Vera Cruz, the command of which 
he had intrusted to the alguacil, Juan de Escalante, an 
officer devoted to his interests. The selection was 
judicious. It was important to place there a man who 
would resist any hostile interference from his European 
rivals, on the one hand, and maintain the present 
friendly relations with the natives, on the other. 
Cortes recommended the Totonac chiefs to apply to 
this officer in case of any difficulty, assuring them that 
so long as they remained faithful to their new sovereign 
and religion they should find a sure protection in the 

Before marching, the general spoke a few words of 
encouragement to his own men. He told them they 
were now to embark in earnest on an enterprise which 
had been the great object of their desires, and that the 
blessed Saviour would carry them victorious through 
every battle with their enemies. "Indeed," he added, 
"this assurance must be our stay, for every other re- 
fuge is now cut off but that afforded by the providence 
of God and your own stout hearts." 4 He ended by 

3 Gomara, Cronica, cap. 44. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 
83. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 61. — The number of the 
Indian auxiliaries stated in the text is much larger than that allowed 
by either Cortes or Diaz. But both these actors in the drama show 
too obvious a desire to magnify their own prowess, by exaggerating 
the numbers of their foes and diminishing their own, to be entitled to 
much confidence in their estimates. 

4 " No teniamos otro socorro, ni ayuda sino el de Dios; porque ya 
no teniamos nauios para ir a Cuba, salvo nuestro buen pelear y cora- 
cones fuertes." Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 59. 



comparing their achievements to those of the ancient 
Romans, "in phrases of honeyed eloquence far beyond 
anything I can repeat," says the brave and simple- 
hearted chronicler who heard them. Cortes was, in- 
deed, master of that eloquence which went to the 
soldiers' hearts. For their sympathies were his, and 
he shared in that romantic spirit of adventure which 
belonged to them. "We are ready to obey you," 
they cried as with one voice. " Our fortunes, for 
better or worse, are cast with yours." 5 Taking leave, 
therefore, of their hospitable Indian friends, the little 
army, buoyant with high hopes and lofty plans of con- 
quest, set forward on the march to Mexico. 

It was the sixteenth of August, 15 19. During the 
first day, their road lay through the tierra caliente, the 
beautiful land where they had been so long lingering ; 
the land of the vanilla, cochineal, cacao (not till later 
days of the orange and the sugar-cane), products which, 
indigenous to Mexico, have now become the luxuries 
of Europe ; the land where the fruits and the flowers 
chase one another in unbroken circle through the year ; 
where the gales are loaded with perfumes till the sense 
aches at their sweetness, and the groves are filled with 
many-colored birds, and insects whose enamelled wings 
glisten like diamonds in the bright sun of the tropics. 
Such are the magical splendors of this paradise of the 
senses. Yet Nature, who generally works in a spirit of 
compensation, has provided one here ; since the same 
burning sun which quickens into life these glories of 
the vegetable and animal kingdoms calls forth the 

5 " Y todos a vna le respondimos, que hariamos lo que ordenasse, 
que echada estaua la suerte de la bucna 6 mala ventura." Loc. cit. 



pestilent malaria, with its train of bilious disorders, 
unknown to the cold skies of the North. The season 
in which the Spaniards were there, the rainy months 
of summer, was precisely that in which the vbmito rages 
with greatest fury ; when the European stranger hardly 
ventures to set his foot on shore, still less to linger there 
a day. We find no mention made of it in the records 
of the Conquerors, nor any notice, indeed, of an un- 
common mortality. The fact doubtless corroborates 
the theory of those who postpone the appearance of 
the yellow fever till long after the occupation of the 
country by the whites. It proves, at least, that, if ex- 
isting before, it must have been in a very much miti- 
gated form. 

After some leagues of travel over roads made nearly 
impassable by the summer rains, the troops began the 
gradual ascent — more gradual on the eastern than the 
western declivities of the Cordilleras — which leads up 
to the table-land of Mexico. At the close of the second 
day they reached Xalapa, a place still retaining the 
same Aztec name that it has communicated to the drug 
raised in its environs, the medicinal virtues of which 
are now known throughout the world. 6 This town 
stands midway up the long ascent, at an elevation 
where the vapors from the ocean, touching in their 
westerly progress, maintain a rich verdure throughout 
the year. Though somewhat infected with these marine 
fogs, the air is usually bland and salubrious. The 
wealthy resident of the lower regions retires here for 
safety in the heats of summer, and the traveller hails 

6 Jalap, Convolvulus jalapcs. The *• and/ are convertible conso- 
nants in the Castilian. 


its groves of oak with delight, as announcing that he is 
above the deadly influence of the vbmito. 1 From this 
delicious spot, the Spaniards enjoyed one of the grandest 
prospects in nature. Before them was the steep ascent 
— much steeper after this point — which they were to 
climb. On the right rose the Sierra Madre, girt with 
its dark belt of pines, and its long lines of shadowy 
hills stretching away in the distance. To the south, in 
brilliant contrast, stood the mighty Orizaba, with his 
white robe of snow descending far down his sides, 
towering in solitary grandeur, the giant spectre of the 
Andes. Behind them, they beheld, unrolled at their 
feet, the magnificent tierra caliente, with its gay con- 
fusion of meadows, streams, and flowering forests, 
sprinkled over with shining Indian villages, while a 
faint line of light on the edge of the horizon told them 
that there was the ocean, beyond which were the kin- 
dred and country they were many of them never more 
to see. 

Still winding their way upward, amidst scenery as 
different as was the temperature from that of the re- 
gions below, the army passed through settlements con- 
taining some hundreds of inhabitants each, and on the 
fourth day reached a "strong town," as Cortes terms 
it, standing on a rocky eminence, supposed to be that 
now known by the Mexican name of Naulinco. Here 
they were hospitably entertained by the inhabitants, 
who were friends of the Totonacs. Cortes endeavored, 

7 The heights of Xalapa are crowned with a convent dedicated to 
St. Francis, erected in later days by Cortes, showing, in its solidity, 
like others of the period built under the same auspices, says an agree- 
able traveller, a military as well as religious design. Tudor's Travels 
in North America (London, 1834), vol. ii. p. 186. 




through Father Olmedo, to impart to them some know] 
edge of Christian truths, which were kindly received, 
and the Spaniards were allowed to erect a cross in the 
place, for the future adoration of the natives. Indeed, 
the route of the army might be tracked by these em- 
blems of man's salvation, raised wherever a willing 
population of Indians invited it, suggesting a very dif- 
ferent idea from what the same memorials intimate to 
the traveller in these mountain solitudes in our day. 8 

8 Ovicdo, Hist, de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 1. — Rel. Seg. de 
Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, p. 40. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 44. — Ixtlil- 
xochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83. — " Every hundred yards of our 
route," says the traveller last quoted, speaking of this very region, 
"was marked by the melancholy erection of a wooden cross, denot- 
ing, according to the custom of the country, the commission of some 
horrible murder on the spot where it was planted." (Travels in North 
America, vol. ii. p. 188.) — [Senor Alaman stoutly defends his country- 
men from this gross exaggeration, as he pronounces it, of Mr. Tudor. 
For although it is unhappily true, he says, that travellers were formerly 
liable to be attacked in going from the city of Mexico to Vera Cruz, 
and that the diligence which passes over this road is still frequently 
stopped, yet it is very seldom that personal violence is offered. " Foreign 
tourists are prone to believe all the stories of atrocities that are re- 
lated to them, and generally, at inns, fall into the society of persons 
who take delight in furnishing a large supply of such materials. The 
crosses that are to be met with in the country are not so numerous as 
is pretended ; nor are ail of them memorials of assassinations com- 
mitted in the places where they have been erected. Many are merely 
objects of devotion, and others indicate the spot where two roads 
diverge from each other. We must, nevertheless, confess that this 
matter is one that demands all the attention of the government ; while 
the candid foreigner will doubtless admit that it is not easy to exercise 
police supervision over roads on which the central points of population 
lie far apart, as in countries like ours, instead of being so near that 
a watch can be maintained from them over the intermediate spaces, as 
is the case in most countries of Europe and in a great part of the 
United States." Conquista de Mejico (trad, de Vega), torn. i. p. 251.] 


39 1 

The troops now entered a rugged defile, the Bishop's 
Pass, 9 as it is called, capable of easy defence against 
an army. Very soon they experienced a most unwel- 
come change of climate. Cold winds from the moun- 
tains, mingled with rain, and, as they rose still higher, 
with driving sleet and hail, drenched their garments, 
and seemed to penetrate to their very bones. The 
Spaniards, indeed, partially covered by their armor 
and thick jackets of quilted cotton, were better able to 
resist the weather, though their long residence in the 
sultry regions of the valley made them still keenly 
sensible to the annoyance. But the poor Indians, 
natives of the tierra caliente, with little protection in 
the way of covering, sank under the rude assault of 
the elements, and several of them perished on the road. 

The aspect of the country was as wild and dreary as 
the climate. Their route wound along the spur of the 
huge Cofre de Perote, which borrows its name, both 
in Mexican and Castilian, from the coffer-like rock 
on its summit. 10 It is one of the great volcanoes of 
New Spain. It exhibits now, indeed, no vestige of a 
crater on its top, but abundant traces of volcanic action 
at its base, where acres of lava, blackened scoriae, and 
cinders proclaim the convulsions of nature, while nu- 
merous shrubs and mouldering trunks of enormous 
trees, among the crevices, attest the antiquity of these 

9 El. Paso del Obispo. Cortes named it Puerto del Nombre de Dios. 
Viaje, ap. Lorenzana, p. ii. 

10 The Aztec name is Nauhcampatepetl, from naukca?nfa, " any- 
thing square," and tepetl, "a mountain." — Humboldt, who waded 
through forests and snows to its summit, ascertained its height to be 
4089 metres, = 13,414 feet, above the sea. See his Vues des Cor- 
dilleras, p. 234, and Essai politique, vol. i. p. 266. 



events. Working their toilsome way across this scene 
of desolation, the path often led them along the bor- 
ders of precipices, down whose sheer depths of two or 
three thousand feet the shrinking eye might behold 
another climate, and see all the glowing vegetation of 
the tropics choking up the bottom of the ravines. 

After three days of this fatiguing travel, the way- 
worn army emerged through another defile, the Sierra 
del Agua." They soon came upon an open reach of 
country, with a genial climate, such as belongs to the 
temperate latitudes of southern Europe. They had 
reached the level of more than seven thousand feet 
above the ocean, where the great sheet of table-land 
spreads out for hundreds of miles along the crests of 
the Cordilleras. The country showed signs of careful 
cultivation, but the products were, for the most part, 
not familiar to the eyes of the Spaniards. Fields and 
hedges of the various tribes of the cactus, the towering 
organum, and plantations of aloes with rich yellow 
clusters of flowers on their tall stems, affording drink 
and clothing to the Aztec, were everywhere seen. The 
plants of the torrid and temperate zones had disap- 
peared, one after another, with the ascent into these 
elevated regions. The glossy and dark-leaved banana, 
the chief, as it is the cheapest, aliment of the coun- 
tries below, had long since faded from the landscape. 
The hardy maize, however, still shone with its golden 
harvests in all the pride of cultivation, the" great staple 
of the higher equally with the lower terraces of the 

11 The same mentioned in Cortes' Letter as the Puerto de la Lena. 
Viaje, ap. Lorenzana, p. iii. 



Suddenly the troops came upon what seemed the 
environs of a populous city, which, as they entered it, 
appeared to surpass even that of Cempoalla in the size 
and solidity of its structures. 12 These were of stone 
and lime, many of them spacious and tolerably high. 
There were thirteen teocallis in the place ; and in the 
suburbs they had seen a receptacle, in which, according 
to Bernal Diaz, were stored a hundred thousand skulls 
of human victims, all piled and ranged in order ! He 
reports the number as one he had ascertained by count- 
ing them himself. 13 Whatever faith we may attach to 
the precise accuracy of his figures, the result is almost 
equally startling. The Spaniards were destined to 
become familiar with this appalling spectacle as they 
approached nearer to the Aztec capital. 

The lord of the town ruled over twenty thousand 
vassals. He was tributary to Montezuma, and a strong 
Mexican garrison was quartered in the place. He had 
probably been advised of the approach of the Span- 
iards, and doubted how far it would be welcome to his 
sovereign. At all events, he gave them a cold recep- 
tion, the more unpalatable after the extraordinary suf- 
ferings of the last few days. To the inquiry of Cortes, 
whether he were subject to Montezuma, he answered, 

12 Now known by the euphonious Indian name of Tlatlauqnitepec. 
(Viaje, ap. Lorenzana, p. iv.) It is the Cocotlan of Bernal Diaz. 
(Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 61.) The old Conquerors made sorry 
work with the Aztec names, both of places and persons, for which 
they must be allowed to have had ample excuse. 

»3 " Puestos tantos rimeros de calaueras de muertos, que se podian 
bien contar, segun el concierto con que estauan puestas, que me parece 
que eran mas de cien rail, y digo otra vez sobre cien mil." Ibid., 
ubi supra. 


with real or affected surprise, "Who is there that is 
not a vassal of Montezuma?" 14 The general told him, 
with some emphasis, that he was not. He then explained 
whence and why he came, assuring him that he served 
a monarch who had princes for his vassals as powerful 
as the Aztec monarch himself. 

The cacique, in turn, fell nothing short of the 
Spaniard in the pompous display of the grandeur and 
resources of the Indian emperor. He told his guest 
that Montezuma could muster thirty great vassals, each 
master of a hundred thousand men ! 1S His revenues 
were immense, as every subject, however poor, paid 
something. They were all expended on his magnifi- 
cent state and in support of his armies. These were 
continually in the field, while garrisons were main- 
tained in most of the large cities of the empire. More 
than twenty thousand victims, the fruit of his wars, 
were annually sacrificed on the altars of his gods ! His 
capital, the cacique said, stood in a lake, in the centre 
of a spacious valley. The lake was commanded by 
the emperor's vessels, and the approach to the city 
was by means of causeways, several miles long, con- 
nected in parts by wooden bridges, which, when raised, 

J 4 " El qual casi admirado de lo que le preguntaba, me respondid, 
diciendo; ique quien no era vasallo de Muctezuma? queriendo decir, 
que alii era Sefior del Mundo." Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, 
p. 47. 

J 5 " Tiene mas de 30 Principes & si subjectos, que cada uno dellos 
tiene cient mill hombres e mas de pelea." (Oviedo, Hist, de las Ind., 
MS., lib. 33, cap. 1.) This marvellous tale is gravely repeated by 
more than one Spanish writer, in their accounts of the Aztec mon- 
archy, not as the assertion of this chief, but as a veritable piece of 
statistics. See, among others, Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 7, 
cap. 12 — Solis, Conquista, lib. 3, cap. 16. 


cut off all communication with the country. Some 
other things he added, in answer to queries of his 
guest, in which, as the reader may imagine, the crafty 
or credulous cacique varnished over the truth with a 
lively coloring of romance. Whether romance, or 
reality, the Spaniards could not determine. The par- 
ticulars they gleaned were not of a kind to tranquillize 
their minds, and might well have made bolder hearts 
than theirs pause, ere they advanced. But far from 
it. "The words which we heard," says the stout old 
cavalier so often quoted, "however they may have 
filled us with wonder, made us — such is the temper 
of the Spaniard — only the more earnest to prove the 
adventure, desperate as it might appear." l6 

In a further conversation Cortes inquired of the 
chief whether his country abounded in gold, and inti- 
mated a desire to take home some, as specimens, to his 
sovereign. But the Indian lord declined to give him 
any, saying it might displease Montezuma. "Should 
he command it," he added, "my gold, my person, 
and all I possess, shall be at your disposal." The 
general did not press the matter further. 

The curiosity of the natives was naturally excited 
by the strange dresses, weapons, horses, and dogs of 
the Spaniards. Marina, in satisfying their inquiries, 
took occasion to magnify the prowess of her adopted 
countrymen, expatiating on their exploits and victo- 
ries, and stating the extraordinary marks of respect 

* 6 Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 61. — There is a slight 
ground-swell of glorification in the Captain's narrative, which may- 
provoke a smile, — not a sneer, for it is mingled with too much real 
courage and simplicity of character. 


they had received from Montezuma. This intelligence 
seems to have had its effect ; for soon after the cacique 
gave the general some curious trinkets of gold, of no 
great value, indeed, but as a testimony of his good will. 
He sent him, also, some female slaves to prepare bread 
for the troops, and supplied the means of refreshment 
and repose, more important to them, in the present 
juncture, than all the gold of Mexico. 17 

The Spanish general, as usual, did not neglect the 
occasion to inculcate the great truths of revelation on 
his host, and to display the atrocity of the Indian 
superstitions. The cacique listened with civil but 
cold indifference. Cortes, finding him unmoved, 
turned briskly round to his soldiers, exclaiming that 
now was the time to plant the Cross ! They eagerly 
seconded his pious purpose, and the same scenes might 
have been enacted as at Cempoalla, with perhaps very 
different results, had not Father Olmedo, with better 
judgment, interposed. He represented that to intro- 
duce the Cross among the natives, in their present state 
of ignorance and incredulity, would be to expose the 
sacred symbol to desecration so soon as the backs of 
the Spaniards were turned. The only way was to wait 
patiently the season when more leisure should be af- 
forded to instil into their minds a knowledge of the 
truth. The sober reasoning of the good father pre- 
vailed over the passions of the martial enthusiasts. 

It was fortunate for Cortes that Olmedo was not one 

*7 For the preceding pages, besides authorities cited in course, see 
Peter Martyr, De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 1, — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. 
Chich., MS., cap. 83, — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 44, — Torquemada, 
Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 26. 



of those frantic friars who would have fanned his fiery- 
temper on such occasions into a blaze. It might have 
had a most disastrous influence on his fortunes; for he 
held all temporal consequences light in comparison 
with the great work of conversion, to effect which the 
unscrupulous mind of the soldier, trained to the stern 
discipline of the camp, would have employed force 
whenever fair means were ineffectual. 18 But Olmedo 
belonged to that class of benevolent missionaries — of 
whom the Roman Catholic church, to its credit, has 
furnished many examples — who rely on spiritual weap- 
ons for the great work, inculcating those doctrines of 
love and mercy which can best touch the sensibilities 
and win the affections of their rude audience. These, 
indeed, are the true weapons of the Church, the weap- 
ons employed in the primitive ages, by which it has 
spread its peaceful banners over the farthest regions of 
the globe. Such were not the means used by the con- 
querors of America, who, rather adopting the policy 
of the victorious Moslems in their early career, carried 
with them the sword in one hand and the Bible in the 
other. They imposed obedience in matters of faith, 
no less than of government, on the vanquished, little 
heeding whether the conversion were genuine, so that 
it conformed to the outward observances of the Church. 
Yet the seeds thus recklessly scattered must have per- 
ished but for the missionaries of their own nation, who, 

,8 The general clearly belonged to the church militant, mentioned by- 
Butler : 

" Such as do build their faith upon 
The holy text of pike and gun, 
And prove their doctrines orthodox 
By apostolic blows and knocks." 

Vol. I. 34 


in later times, worked over the same ground, living 
among the Indians as brethren, and, by long and 
patient culture, enabling the germs of truth to take 
root and fructify in their hearts. 

The Spanish commander remained in the city four 
or five days, to recruit his fatigued and famished forces ; 
and the modern Indians still point out, or did, at the 
close of the last century, a venerable cypress, under the 
branches of which was tied the horse of the Conquis- 
tador, — the Conqueror, as Cortes was styled, par ex- 
cellence.^ Their route now opened on a broad and 
verdant valley, watered by a noble stream, — a circum- 
stance of not too frequent occurrence on the parched 
table-land of New Spain. The soil was well protected 
by woods, — a thing still rarer at the present day ; since 
the invaders, soon after the Conquest, swept away the 
magnificent growth of timber, rivalling that of our 
Southern and Western States in variety and beauty, 
which covered the plateau under the Aztecs. 20 

All along the river, on both sides of it, an unbroken 
line of Indian dwellings, "so near as almost to touch 
one another," extended for three or four leagues; 
arguing a population much denser than at present. 21 

'9 " Arbol grande, dicho ahuehuete." (Viaje, ap. Lorenzana, p. iii.) 
The cuprcssus disticha of Linnreus. See Humboldt, Essai politique, 
torn. ii. p. 54, note. 

20 It is the same taste which has made the Castiles, the table-land of 
the Peninsula, so naked of wood. Prudential reasons, as well as taste, 
however, seem to have operated in New Spain. A friend of mine on 
a visit to a noble hacienda, but uncommonly barren of trees, was in- 
formed by the proprietor that they were cut down to prevent the lazy 
Indians on the plantation from wasting their time by loitering in their 
shade ! 

21 It confirms the observations of M. de Humboldt. " Sans doute 



On a rough and rising ground stood a town that might 
contain five or six thousand inhabitants, commanded 
by a fortress, which, with its walls and trenches, seemed 
to the Spaniards quite "ona level with similar works 
in Europe." Here the troops again halted, and met 
with friendly treatment. 22 

Cortes now determined his future line of march. At 
the last place he had been counselled by the natives to 
take the route of the ancient city of Cholula, the in- 
habitants of which, subjects of Montezuma, were a mild 
race, devoted to mechanical and other peaceful arts, 
and would be likely to entertain him kindly. Their 
Cempoallan allies, however, advised the Spaniards not 
to trust the Cholulans, "a false and perfidious people," 
but to take the road to Tlascala, that valiant little re- 
public which had so long maintained its independence 
against the arms of Mexico. The people were frank as 
they were fearless, and fair in their dealings. They 
had always been on terms of amity with the Totonacs, 
which afforded a strong guarantee for their amicable 
disposition on the present occasion. 

lors de la premiere arrivee des Espagnols, toute cette cote, depuis la 
riviere de Papaloapan (Alvarado) jusqu'a Huaxtecapan, etait plus 
habitee et mieux cultivee qu'elle ne Test aujourd'hui. Cependant a 
mesure que les conquerans monterent au plateau, ils trouverent les 
villages plus rapproches les uns des autres, les champs divises en por- 
tions plus petites, le peuple plus police." Humboldt, Essai politique, 
torn. ii. p. 202. 

22 The correct Indian name of the town, Yxtacamaxtitlan , Yztac- 
mastitan of Cortes, will hardly be recognized in the Xalacingo cf Diaz. 
The town was removed, in 1601, from' the top of the hill to the plain. 
On the original site are still visible remains of carved stones of large 
dimensions, attesting the elegance of the ancient fortress or palace of 
the cacique. Viaje, ap. Lorenzana, p. v. 



The arguments of his Indian allies prevailed with the 
Spanish commander, who resolved to propitiate the 
good will of the Tlascalans by an embassy. He se- 
lected four of the principal Cempoallans for this, and 
sent by them a martial gift, — a cap of crimson cloth, 
together with a sword and a cross-bow, weapons which, 
it was observed, excited general admiration among the 
natives. He added a letter, in which he asked per- 
mission to pass through their country. He expressed 
his admiration of the valor of the Tlascalans, and of 
their long resistance to the Aztecs, whose proud empire 
he designed to humble. 23 It was not to be expected 
that this epistle, indited in good Castilian, would be 
very intelligible to the Tlascalans. But Cortes com- 
municated its import to the ambassadors. Its myste- 
rious characters might impress the natives with an idea 
of superior intelligence, and the letter serve instead of 
those hieroglyphical missives which formed the usual 
credentials of an Indian ambassador. 24 

The Spaniards remained three days in this hos- 
pitable place, after the departure of the envoys, when 
they resumed their progress. Although in a friendly 
country, they marched always as if in a land of ene- 
mies, the horse and light troops in the van, with the 
heavy-armed and baggage in the rear, all in battle- 
array. They were never without their armor, waking 
or sleeping, lying down with their weapons by their 
sides. This unintermitting and restless vigilance was, 

33 " Estas cosas y otras de gran persuasion contenia la carta, pero 
como no sabian leer no pudieron entender lo que contenia." Camargo, 
Hist, de Tlascala, MS. 

*4 For an account of the diplomatic usages of the people of Ana- 
huac, see ante, p. 45. 



perhaps, more oppressive to the spirits than even bodily- 
fatigue. But they were confident in their superiority in 
a fair field, and felt that the most serious danger they 
had to fear from Indian warfare was surprise. " We are 
few against many, brave companions," Cortes would 
say to them; "be prepared, then, not as if you were 
going to battle, but as if actually in the midst of it!" 25 

The road taken by the Spaniards was the same which 
at present leads to Tlascala ; not that, however, usually 
followed in passing from Vera Cruz to the capital, which 
makes a circuit considerably to the south, towards Pue- 
bla, in the neighborhood of the ancient Cholula. They 
more than once forded the stream that rolls through 
this beautiful plain, lingering several days on the way, 
in hopes of receiving an answer from the Indian re- 
public. The unexpected delay of the messengers could 
not be explained, and occasioned some uneasiness. 

As they advanced into a country of rougher and 
bolder features, their progress was suddenly arrested 
by a remarkable fortification. It was a stone wall nine 
feet in height, and twenty in thickness, with a parapet, 
a foot and a half broad, raised on the summit for the 
protection of those who defended it. It had only one 
opening, in the centre, made by two semicircular lines 
of wall overlapping each other for the space of forty 
paces, and affording a passage-way between, ten paces 
wide, so contrived, therefore, as to be perfectly com- 
manded by the inner wall. This fortification, which 

2 5 " Mira, senores companeros, ya veis que somos pocos, hemos de 
estar siempre tan apercebidos, y aparejados, como si aora viessemos 
venir los contrarios d pelear, y no solamente vellos venir, sino hazer 
cuenta que estamos ya en la batalla con ellos." Bernal Diaz, Hist, 
de la Conquista, cap. 62. 

' 34* 



extended more than two leagues, rested at either end 
on the bold natural buttresses formed by the sierra. 
The work was built of immense blocks of stones nicely 
laid together without cement ; a6 and the remains still 
existing, among which are rocks of the whole breadth 
of the rampart, fully attest its solidity and size. 27 

This singular structure marked the limits of Tlas- 
cala, and was intended, as the natives told the Span- 
iards, as a barrier against the Mexican invasions. The 
army paused, filled with amazement at the contempla- 
tion of this Cyclopean monument, which naturally 
suggested reflections on the strength and resources of 
the people who had raised it. It caused them, too, 
some painful solicitude as to the probable result of 
their mission to Tlascala, and their own consequent 
reception there. But they were too sanguine to allow 
such uncomfortable surmises long to dwell in their 
minds. Cortes put himself at the head of his cavalry, 
and, calling out, " Forward, soldiers, the Holy Cross 
is our banner, and under that we shall conquer," led 
his little army through the undefended passage, and in 
a few moments they trod the soil of the free republic 
of Tlascala. 28 

26 According to the writer last cited, the stones were held by a 
cement so hard that the men could scarcely break it with their pikes. 
(Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 62.) But the contrary statement, in the 
general's letter, is confirmed by the present appearance of the wall. 
Viaje, ap. Lorenzana, p. vii. 

27 Viaje, ap. Lorenzana, p. vii. — The attempts of the Archbishop to 
identify the route of Cortes have been very successful. It is a pity 
that his map illustrating the itinerary should be so worthless. 

28 Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 44, 45. 
— Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83. — Herrera, Hist, general, 
dec. 2, lib. 6, cap. 3. — Oviedo, Hist, de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 2. 
— Peter Martyr, De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 1. 






Before advancing further with the Spaniards into 
the territory of Tlascala, it will be well to notice some 
traits in the character and institutions of the nation, 
in many respects the most remarkable in Anahuac. 
The Tlascalans belonged to the same great family with 
the Aztecs. 1 They came on the grand plateau about 
the same time with the kindred races, at the close of 
the twelfth century, and planted themselves on the 
western borders of the lake of Tezcuco. Here they 
remained many years, engaged in the usual pursuits 
of a bold and partially civilized people. From some 
cause or other, perhaps their turbulent temper, they 
incurred the enmity of surrounding tribes. A coali- 
tion was formed against them ; and a bloody battle 
was fought on the plains of Poyauhtlan, in which the 
Tlascalans were completely victorious. 

1 The Indian chronicler, Camargo, considers his nation a branch 
of the Chichimec. (Hist, de Tlascala, MS.) So, also, Torquemada. 
(Monarch. Ind., lib. 3, cap. 9.) Clavigero, who has carefully investi- 
gated the antiquities of Anahuac, calls it one of the seven Nahuatlac 
tribes. (Stor. del Messico, torn. i. p. 153, nota.) The fact is not of 
great moment, since they were all cognate races, speaking the same 
tongue, and, probably, migrated from their country in the far North 
at nearly the same time. 




Disgusted, however, with their residence among 
nations with whom they found so little favor, the con- 
quering people resolved to migrate. They separated 
into three divisions, the largest of which, taking a 
southern course by the great volcan of Mexico, wound 
round the ancient city of Cholula, and finally settled 
in the district of country overshadowed by the sierra 
of Tlascala. The warm and fruitful valleys, locked up 
in the embraces of this rugged brotherhood of moun- 
tains, afforded means of subsistence for an agricultural 
people, while the bold eminences of the sierra pre- 
sented secure positions for their towns. 

After the lapse of years, the institutions of the nation 
underwent an important change. The monarchy was 
divided first into two, afterwards into four separate states, 
bound together by a sort of federal compact, probably 
not very nicely defined. Each state, however, had its 
lord or supreme chief, independent in his own terri- 
tories, and possessed of co-ordinate authority with the 
others in all matters concerning the whole republic. 
The affairs of government, especially all those relating 
to peace and war, were settled in a senate or council, 
consisting of the four lords with their inferior nobles. 

The lower dignitaries held of the superior, each in 
his own district, by a kind of feudal tenure, being 
bound to supply his table and enable him to maintain 
his state in peace, as well as to serve him in war. 2 In 

2 The descendants of these petty nobles attached as great value to 
their pedigrees as any Biscayan or Asturian in Old Spain. Long after 
the Conquest, they refused, however needy, to dishonor their birth by 
resorting to mechanical or other plebeian occupations, qficios viles y 
bajos. " Los descendientes de estos son estimados por hombres califi- 
cados, que aunque sean pobrisimos no usan oficios mecanicos ni 



return, he experienced the aid and protection of his 
suzerain. The same mutual obligations existed between 
him and the followers among whom his own territories 
were distributed. 3 Thus a chain of feudal dependen- 
cies was established, which, if not contrived with all 
the art and legal refinements of analogous institutions 
in the Old World, displayed their most prominent char- 
acteristics in its personal relations, the obligations of 
military service on the one hand, and protection on 
the other. This form of government, so different from 
that of the surrounding nations, subsisted till the arrival 
of the Spaniards. And it is certainly evidence of con- 
siderable civilization that so complex a polity should 
have so long continued, undisturbed by violence or 
faction in the confederate states, and should have been 
found competent to protect the people in their rights, 
and the country from foreign invasion. 

The lowest order of the people, however, do not 
seem to have enjoyed higher immunities than under 
the monarchical governments ; and their rank was 

tratos bajos ni viles, ni jamas se permiten cargar ni cabar con coas y 
azadones, diciendo que son hijos Idalgos en que no han de aplicarse 
& estas cosas soeces y bajas, sino servir en guerras y fronteras, como 
Idalgos, y morir como hombres peleando." Camargo, Hist, de 
Tlascala, MS. 

3 " Cualquier Tecuhtli que formaba un Tecalli, que es casa de 
Mayorazgo, todas aquellas tierras que le caian en suerte de reparti- 
miento, con montes, fuentes, rios, 6 lagunas tomase para la casa prin- 
cipal la mayor y mejor suerte 6 pagos de tierra, y luego las demas que 
qucdaban se partian por sus soldados amigos y parientes, igualmente, 
y todos estos estan obligados A reconocer la casa mayor y acudir a 
ella, i. alzarla y repararla, y a ser continuos en reconocer d ella de 
aves, caza, flores, y ramos para el sustento de la casa del Mayorazgo, 
y el que lo es estd obligado A sustentarlos y d regalarlos como amigos 
de aquella casa y parientes de ella." Ibid., MS. 


carefully defined by an appropriate dress, and by their 
exclusion from the insignia of the aristocratic orders. 4 

The nation, agricultural in its habits, reserved its 
highest honors, like most other rude — unhappily, also, 
civilized — nations, for military prowess. Public games 
were instituted, and prizes decreed to those who ex- 
celled in such manly and athletic exercises as might 
train them for the fatigues of war. Triumphs were 
granted to the victorious general, who entered the city, 
leading his spoils and captives in long procession, while 
his achievements were commemorated in national songs, 
and his effigy, whether in wood or stone, was erected 
in the temples. It was truly in the martial spirit of 
republican Rome. 3 

An institution not unlike knighthood was introduced, 
very similar to one existing also among the Aztecs. 
The aspirant to the honors of this barbaric chivalry 
watched his arms and fasted fifty or sixty days in the 
temple, then listened to a grave discourse on the duties 
of his new profession. Various whimsical ceremonies 
followed, when his arms were restored to him ; he was 
led in solemn procession through the public streets, 
and the inauguration was concluded by banquets and 
public rejoicings. The new knight was distinguished 
henceforth by certain peculiar privileges, as well as by 
a badge intimating his rank. It is worthy of remark 

4 Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. 

5 " Los grandes recibimientos que hacian & los capitanes que venian 
y alcanzaban victoria en las guerras, las fiestas y solenidades con que 
se solenizaban & manera de triunfo, que los metian en andas en su 
puebla, trayendo consigo & los vencidos ; y por eternizar sus hazanas 
se las cantaban publicamente, y ansi quedaban memoradas y con 
estatuas que les ponian en los templos." Ibid., MS. 


that this honor was not reserved exclusively for military 
merit, but was the recompense, also, of public services 
of other kinds, as wisdom in council, or sagacity and 
success in trade. For trade was held in as high 
estimation by the Tlascalans as by the other people 
of Anahuac. 6 

The temperate climate of the table-land furnished 
the ready means for distant traffic. The fruitfulness 
of the soil was indicated by the name of the country, 
— Tlascala signifying the "land of bread." Its wide 
plains, to the slopes of its rocky hills, waved with 
yellow harvests of maize, and with the bountiful 
maguey, a plant which, as we have seen, supplied the 
materials for some important fabrics. With these, as 
well as the products of agricultural industry, the mer- 
chant found his way down the sides of the Cordilleras, 
wandered over the sunny regions at their base, and 
brought back the luxuries which nature had denied to 
his own. 7 

The various arts of civilization kept pace Avith in- 
creasing wealth and public prosperity ; at least, these 
arts were cultivated to the same limited extent, appar- 
ently, as among the other people of Anahuac. The 
Tlascalan tongue, says the national historian, simple as 
beseemed that of a mountain region, was rough com- 
pared with the polished Tezcucan or the popular Aztec 

6 For the whole ceremony of inauguration, — though, as it seems, 
having especial reference to the merchant-knights, — see Appendix, 
Part 2, No. 9, where the original is given from Camargo. 

7 " Ha bel paese," says the Anonymous Conqueror, speaking of 
Tlascala at the time of the invasion, " di pianure et motagne, et k 
provincia popolosa et vi si raccoglie molto pane." Rel. d'un gentil" 
huomo, ap. Ramusio, torn. iii. p. 308. 


dialect, and, therefore, not so well fitted for composi- 
tion. But the Tlascalans made like proficiency with 
the kindred nations in the rudiments of science. 
Their calendar was formed on the same plan. Their 
religion, their architecture, many of their laws and 
social usages, were the same, arguing a common origin 
for all. Their tutelary deity was the same ferocious 
war-god as that of the Aztecs, though with a different 
name ; their temples, in like manner, were drenched 
with the blood of human victims, and their boards 
groaned with the same cannibal repasts. 8 

Though not ambitious of foreign conquest, the pros- 
perity of the Tlascalans, in time, excited the jealousy 
of their neighbors, and especially of the opulent state 
of Cholula. Frequent hostilities arose between them, 
in which the advantage was almost always on the side 
of the former. A still more formidable foe appeared 
in later days in the Aztecs, who could ill brook the 
independence of Tlascala when the surrounding nations 
had acknowledged, one after another, their influence or 
their empire. Under the ambitious Axayacatl, they 
demanded of the Tlascalans the same tribute and obe- 
dience rendered by other people of the country. If 
it were refused, the Aztecs would raze their cities 
to their foundations, and deliver the land to their 

To this imperious summons, the little republic 
proudly replied, " Neither they nor their ancestors 

8 A full account of the manners, customs, and domestic policy of 
Tlascala is given by the national historian, throwing much light on 
the other states of Anahuac, whose social institutions seem to have 
been all cast in the same mould. 



had ever paid tribute or homage to a foreign power, 
and never would pay it. If their country was invaded, 
they knew how to defend it, and would pour out their 
blood as freely in defence of their freedom now as 
their fathers did of yore, when they routed the Aztecs 
on the plains of Poyauhtlan ! " 9 

This resolute answer brought on them the forces of 
the monarchy. A pitched battle followed, and the 
sturdy republicans were victorious. From this period, 
hostilities between the two nations continued with more 
or less activity, but with unsparing ferocity. Every 
captive was mercilessly sacrificed. The children were 
trained from the cradle to deadly hatred against the 
Mexicans ; and, even in the brief intervals of war, 
none of those intermarriages took place between the 
people of the respective countries, which knit together 
in social bonds most of the other kindred races of 

In this struggle the Tlascalans received an important 
support in the accession of the Othomis, or Otomies, — 
as usually spelt by Castilian writers, — a wild and war- 
like race originally spread over the table-land north of 
the Mexican Valley. A portion of them obtained a 
settlement in the republic, and were speedily incor- 
porated in its armies. Their courage and fidelity to 
the nation of their adoption showed them worthy of 
trust, and the frontier places were consigned to their 
keeping. The mountain barriers by which Tlascala 
is encompassed afforded many strong natural positions 
for defence against invasion. The country was open 

9 Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. — Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., 
lib. 2, cap. 70. 

Vol. I.-S 35 


towards the east, where a valley, of some six miles in 
breadth, invited the approach of an enemy. But here 
it was that the jealous Tlascalans erected the formi- 
dable rampart which had excited the admiration of the 
Spaniards, and which they manned with a garrison 
of Otomies. 

Efforts for their subjugation were renewed on a 
greater scale after the accession of Montezuma. His 
victorious arms had spread down the declivities of the 
Andes to the distant provinces of Vera Paz and Nica- 
ragua, 10 and his haughty spirit was chafed by the oppo- 
sition of a petty state whose territorial extent did not 
exceed ten leagues in breadth by fifteen in length." 
He sent an army against them under the command of 
a favorite son. His troops were beaten, and his son 
was slain. The enraged and mortified monarch was 
roused to still greater preparations. He enlisted the 
forces of the cities bordering on his enemy, together 
with those of the empire, and with this formidable 
army swept over the devoted valleys of Tlascala. But 
the bold mountaineers withdrew into the recesses of 
their hills, and, coolly awaiting their opportunity, 
rushed like a torrent on the invaders, and drove them 
back, with dreadful slaughter, from their territories. 

Still, notwithstanding the advantages gained over 
the enemy in the field, the Tlascalans were sorely 

10 Camargo (Hist, de Tlascala, MS.) notices the extent of Monte- 
zuma's conquests, — a debatable ground for the historian. 

11 Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 3, cap. 16. — Solfs says, "The 
Tlascalan territory was fifty leagues in circumference, ten long, from 
east to west, and four broad, from north to south." (Conquista de 
Mejico, lib, 3, cap. 3.) It must have made a curious figure in 
geometry ! 



pressed by their long hostilities with a foe so far supe- 
rior to themselves in numbers and resources. The 
Aztec armies lay between them and the coast, cutting 
off all communication with that prolific region, and 
thus limited their supplies to the products of their own 
soil and manufacture. For more than half a century 
they had neither cotton, nor cacao, nor salt. Indeed, 
their taste had been so far affected by long abstinence 
from these articles that it required the lapse of several 
generations after the Conquest to reconcile them to the 
use of salt at their meals." During the short intervals 
of war, it is said, the Aztec nobles, in the true spirit 
of chivalry, sent supplies of these commodities as pres- 
ents, with many courteous expressions of respect, to 
the Tlascalan chiefs. This intercourse, we are as- 
sured by the Indian chronicler, was unsuspected by the 
people. Nor did it lead to any further correspondence, 
he adds, between the parties, prejudicial to the liberties 
of the republic, "which maintained its customs and 
good government inviolate, and the worship of its 
gods." 13 

Such was the condition of Tlascala at the coming 
of the Spaniards ; holding, it might seem, a precarious 
existence under the shadow of the formidable power 

12 Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. 

'3 " Los Sefiores Mejicanos y Tezcucanos en tiempo que ponian 
treguas por algunas temporadas embiaban a los Sefiores de Tlaxcalla 
grandes preserves y dadivas de oro, ropa, y cacao, y sal, y de todas 
las cosas de que carecian, sin que la gente plebeya lo entendiese, y se 
saludaban secretamente, guardandose el decoro que se debian ; mas 
con todos estos trabajos la orden de su republica jamas se dejaba de 
gobemar con la rectitud de sus costumbres guardando inviolablemente 
el culto de sus Dioses." Ibid., MS 


which seemed suspended like an avalanche over her 
head, but still strong in her own resources, stronger in 
the indomitable temper of her people ; with a repu- 
tation established throughout the land for good faith 
and moderation in peace, for valor in war, while her 
uncompromising spirit of independence secured the 
respect even of her enemies. With such qualities of 
character, and with an animosity sharpened by long, 
deadly hostility with Mexico, her alliance was obviously 
of the last importance to the Spaniards, in their pres- 
ent enterprise. It was not easy to secure it. 14 

The Tlascalans had been made acquainted with the 
advance and victorious career of the Christians, the 
intelligence of which had spread far and wide over the 
plateau. But they do not seem to have anticipated the 
approach of the strangers to their own borders. They 
were now much embarrassed by the embassy demand- 
ing a passage through their territories. The great 
council was convened, and a considerable difference of 
opinion prevailed in its members. Some, adopting the 
popular superstition, supposed the Spaniards might be 
the white and bearded men foretold by the oracles. 15 
At all events, they were the enemies of Mexico, and as 
such might co-operate with them in their struggle with 
the empire. Others argued that the strangers could 
have nothing in common with them. Their march 

J 4 The Tlascalan chronicler discerns in this deep-rooted hatred of 
Mexico the hand of Providence, who wrought out of it an important 
means for subverting the Aztec empire. Hist, de Tlascala, MS. 

'5 "Si bien os acordais, como tenemos de nuestra antiguedad como 
han de venir gentes a la parte donde sale el sol, y que han de empa- 
rentar con nosotros, y que hemos de ser todos unos ; y que han de 
ser blancos y barbudos." Ibid., MS. 



throughout the land might be tracked by the broken 
images of the Indian gods and desecrated temples. 
How did the Tlascalans even know that they were foes 
to Montezuma? They had received his embassies, 
accepted his presents, and were now in the company 
of his vassals on the way to his capital. 

These last were the reflections of an aged chief, one 
of the four who presided over the republic. His name 
was Xicotencatl. He was nearly blind, having lived, 
as is said, far beyond the limits of a century. 16 His 
son, an impetuous young man of the same name with 
himself, commanded a powerful army of Tlascalan and 
Otomi warriors, near the eastern frontier. It would 
be best, the old man said, to fall with this force at 
once on the Spaniards. If victorious, the latter would 
then be in their power. If defeated, the senate could 
disown the act as that of the general, not of the re- 
public. 17 The cunning counsel of the chief found favor 
with his hearers, though assuredly not in the spirit of 
chivalry, nor of the good faith for which his country- 
men were celebrated. But with an Indian, force and 
stratagem, courage and deceit, were equally admissible 
in war, as they were among the barbarians of ancient 

16 To the ripe age of one hundred and forty ! if we may credit Ca- 
margo. Soils, who confounds this veteran with his son, has put a 
flourishing harangue in the mouth of the latter, which would be a rare 
gem of Indian eloquence, — were it not Castilian. Conquista, lib. 2, 
cap. 16. 

«7 Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. — Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 
2, lib. 6, cap. 3. — Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 27. — There 
is sufficient contradiction, as well as obscurity, in the proceedings re- 
ported of the council, which it is not easy to reconcile altogether with 
subsequent events. 



Rome. 18 The Cempoallan envoys were to be detained 
under pretence of assisting at a religious sacrifice. 

Meanwhile, Cortes and his gallant band, as stated in 
the preceding chapter, had arrived before the rocky 
rampart on the eastern confines of Tlascala. From 
some cause or other, it was not manned by its Otomi 
garrison, and the Spaniards passed in, as we have seen, 
without resistance. Cortes rode at the head of his body 
of horse, and, ordering the infantry to come on at a 
quick pace, went forward to reconnoitre. After ad- 
vancing three or four leagues, he descried a small party 
of Indians, armed with sword and buckler, in the 
fashion of the country. They fled at his approach. 
He made signs for them to halt, but, seeing that they 
only fled the faster, he and his companions put spurs 
to their horses, and soon came up with them. The 
Indians, finding escape impossible, faced round, and, 
instead of showing the accustomed terror of the natives 
at the strange and appalling aspect of a mounted trooper, 
they commenced a furious assault on the cavaliers. The 
latter, however, were too strong for them, and would 
have cut their enemy to pieces without much difficulty, 
when a body of several thousand Indians appeared in 
sight, coming briskly on to the support of their coun- 

Cortes, seeing them, despatched one of his party in 
all haste, to accelerate the march of his infantry. The 
Indians, after discharging their missiles, fell furiously 
on the little band of Spaniards. They strove to tear 
the lances from their grasp, and to drag the riders from 
the horses. They brought one cavalier to the ground, 

t8 " Dolus an virtus, quis in hoste requirat?" 



who afterwards died of his wounds, and they killed two 
of the horses, cutting through their necks with their 
stout broadswords — if we may believe the chronicler — 
at a blow ! I9 In the narrative of these campaigns 
there is sometimes but one step — and that a short one 
— from history to romance. The loss of the horses, so 
important and so few in number, was seriously felt by 
Cortes, who could have better spared the life of the 
best rider in the troop. 

The struggle was a hard one. But the odds were as 
overwhelming as any recorded by the Spaniards in their 
own romances, where a handful of knights is arrayed 
against legions of enemies. The lances of the Chris- 
tians did terrible execution here also ; but they had 
need of the magic lance of Astolpho, that overturned 
myriads with a touch, to carry them safe through so 
unequal a contest. It was with no little satisfaction, 
therefore, that they beheld their comrades rapidly ad- 
vancing to their support. 

No sooner had the main body reached the field of 
battle, than, hastily forming, they poured such a volley 
from their muskets and cross-bows as staggered the 
enemy. Astounded, rather than intimidated, by the 
terrible report of the fire-arms, now heard for the first 
time in these regions, the Indians made no further 
effort to continue the fight, but drew off in good order, 
leaving the road open to the Spaniards. The latter, 
too well satisfied to be rid of the annoyance to care to 
follow the retreating foe, again held on their way. 

«9 " I les mataron dos Caballos, de dos cuchilladas, i segun algunos. 
que lo vieron, cortaron & cercen de un golpe cada pescueijo, con rien- 
das, i todas." Gomara, Cronica, cap. 45. 


Their route took them through a country sprinkled 
over with Indian cottages, amidst flourishing fields of 
maize and maguey, indicating an industrious and thriv- 
ing peasantry. They were met here by two Tlascalan 
envoys, accompanied by two of the Cempoallans. The 
former, presenting themselves before the general, dis- 
avowed the assault on his troops, as an unauthorized 
act, and assured him of a friendly reception at their 
capital. Cortes received the communication in a cour- 
teous manner, affecting to place more confidence in its 
good faith than he probably felt. 

It was now growing late, and the Spaniards quick- 
ened their march, anxious to reach a favorable ground 
for encampment before nightfall. They found such a 
spot on the borders of a stream that rolled sluggishly 
across tne plain. A few deserted cottages stood along 
the banks, and the fatigued and famished soldiers ran- 
sacked them in quest of food. All they could find was 
some tame animals resembling dogs. These they killed 
and dressed without ceremony, and, garnishing their 
unsavory repast with the fruit of the tuna, the Indian 
fig, which grew wild in the neighborhood, they con- 
trived to satisfy the cravings of appetite. A careful 
watch was maintained by Cortes, and companies of a 
hundred men each relieved each other in mounting 
guard through the night. But no attack was made. 
Hostilities by night were contrary to the system of 
Indian tactics. 20 

20 Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, p. 50. — Camargo, Hist, de 
Tlascala, MS. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 62. — Gomara, 
Cronica, cap. 45. — Oviedo, Hist, de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 3, 41. 
— Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, MS., lib. 12, cap. 10. 



By break of day on the following morning, it being 
the second of September, the troops were under arms. 
Besides the Spaniards, the whole number of Indian 
auxiliaries might now amount to three thousand ; for 
Cortes had gathered recruits from the friendly places 
on his route, — three hundred from the last. After 
hearing mass, they resumed their march. They moved 
in close array ; the general had previously admonished 
the men not to lag behind, or wander from the ranks a 
moment, as stragglers would be sure to be cut off by 
their stealthy and vigilant enemy. The horsemen rode 
three abreast, the better to give one another support ; 
and Cortes instructed them in the heat of fight to keep 
together, and never to charge singly. He taught them 
how to carry their lances that they might not be wrested 
from their hands by the Indians, who constantly at- 
tempted it. For the same reason, they should avoid 
giving thrusts, but aim their weapons steadily at the 
faces of their foes. 21 

They had not proceeded far, when they were met by 
the two remaining Cempoallan envoys, who with looks 
of terror informed the general that they had been 
treacherously seized and confined, in order to be sacri- 
ficed at an approaching festival of the Tlascalans, but 
in the night had succeeded in making their escape. 
They gave the unwelcome tidings, also, that a large 
force of the natives was already assembled to oppose 
the progress of the Spaniards. 

Soon after, they came in sight of a body of Indians, 

a " Que quando rompiessemos por los esquadrones, que lleuassen 
las lar^as por las caras, y no parassen a dar lar^adas, porque no les 
echassen mano dellas." Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 62. 


about a thousand, apparently, all armed, and brandish- 
ing their weapons, as the Christians approached, in 
token of defiance. Cortes, when he had come within 
hearing, ordered the interpreters to proclaim that he 
had no hostile intentions, but wished only to be al- 
lowed a passage through their country, which he had 
entered as a friend. This declaration he commanded 
the royal notary, Godoy, to record on the spot, that, 
if blood were shed, it might not be charged on the 
Spaniards. This pacific proclamation was met, as 
usual on such occasions, by a shower of darts, stones, 
and arrows, which fell like rain on the Spaniards, rat- 
tling on their stout harness, and in some instances 
penetrating to the skin. Galled by the smart of their 
wounds, they called on the general to lead them on, 
till he sounded the well-known battle-cry, "St. Jago, 
and at them!"" 

The Indians maintained their ground for a while 
with spirit, when they retreated with precipitation, but 
not in disorder. 23 The Spaniards, whose blood was 
heated by the encounter, followed up their advantage 
with more zeal than prudence, suffering the wily enemy 
to draw them into a narrow glen or defile intersected 
by a little stream of water, where the broken ground 
was impracticable for artillery, as well as for the move- 
ments of cavalry. Pressing forward with eagerness, 
to extricate themselves from their perilous position, 
to their great dismay, on turning an abrupt angle of 

22 " Entonces dixo Cortes, ' Santiago, y & ellos.' " Bernal Diaz, 
Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 63. 

*3 " Una gentil contienda," says Gomara of this skirmish. Cr6nica, 
cap. 46. 


the pass, they came in presence of a numerous army, 
choking up the gorge of the valley, and stretching 
far over the plains beyond. To the astonished eyes 
of Cortes, they appeared a hundred thousand men, 
while no account estimates them at less than thirty 
thousand. 24 

They presented a confused assemblage of helmets, 
weapons, and many-colored plumes, glancing bright in 
the morning sun, and mingled with banners, above 
which proudly floated one that bore as a device the 
heron on a rock. It was the well-known ensign of the 
house of Titcala, and, as well as the white and yellow 
stripes on the bodies, and the like colors on the feather- 
mail of the Indians, showed that they were the warriors 
of Xicotencatl. 25 

As the Spaniards came in sight, the Tlascalans set 
up a hideous war-cry, or rather whistle, piercing the 
ear with its shrillness, and which, with the beat of their 

2 4 Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, p. 51. According to Go- 
mara (Cronica, cap. 46), the enemy mustered So, 000. So, also, Ixtlil- 
xochitl. (Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83.) Bernal Diaz says, more than 
40,000. (Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 63.) But Herrera (Hist, general, 
dec. 2, lib. 6, cap. 5) and Torquemada (Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 20) 
reduce them to 30,000. One might as easily reckon the leaves in a 
forest, as the numbers of a confused throng of barbarians. As this 
was only one of several armies kept on foot by the Tlascalans, the 
smallest amount is, probably, too large. The whole population of the 
state, according to Clavigero, who would not be likely to underrate it, 
did not exceed half a million at the time of the invasion. Stor. del 
Messico, torn. i. p. 156. 

2 5 " La divisa y armas de la casa y cabecera de Titcala es una garga 
blanca sobre un penasco." (Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS.) " El 
capitan general," says Bernal Diaz, " que se dezia Xicotenga, y con 
sus diuisas de bianco y Colorado, porque aquella diuisa y librea era de 
aquel Xicotenga." Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 63. 



melancholy drums, that could be heard for half a league 
or more, 26 might well have filled the stoutest heart with 
dismay. This formidable host came rolling on towards 
the Christians, as if to overwhelm them by their very 
numbers. But the courageous band of warriors, closely 
serried together and sheltered under their strong pano- 
plies, received the shock unshaken, while the broken 
masses of the enemy, chafing and heaving tumultuously 
around them, seemed to recede only to return with 
new and accumulated force. 

Cortes, as usual, in the front of danger, in vain en- 
deavored, at the head of the horse, to open a passage 
for the infantry. Still his men, both cavalry and foot, 
kept their array unbroken, offering no assailable point 
to their foe. A body of the Tlascalans, however, act- 
ing in concert, assaulted a soldier named Moran, one 
of the best riders in the troop. They succeeded in 
dragging him from his horse, which they despatched 
with a thousand blows. The Spaniards, on foot, made 
a desperate effort to rescue their comrade from the 
hands of the enemy, — and from the horrible doom of 
the captive. A fierce struggle now began over the 
body of the prostrate horse. Ten of the Spaniards 
were wounded, when they succeeded in retrieving the 
unfortunate cavalier from his assailants, but in so dis- 
astrous a plight that he died on the following day. 

26 " Llaman Teponaztle ques de un trozo de madero concavado y 
de una pieza rollizo y, como decimos, hueco por de dentro, que suena 
algunas veces mas de media legua y con el atambor hace estrana y 
suave consonancia." (Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS.) Clavigero, 
who gives a drawing of this same drum, says it is still used by the 
Indians, and may be heard two or three miles. Stor. del Messico, 
torn. ii. p. 179. 



The horse was borne off in triumph by the Indians, 
and his mangled remains were sent, a strange trophy, 
to the different towns of Tlascala. The circumstance 
troubled the Spanish commander, as it divested the 
animal of the supernatural terrors with which the 
superstition of the natives had usually surrounded it. 
To prevent such a consequence, he had caused the two 
horses, killed on the preceding day, to be secretly 
buried on the spot. 

The enemy now began to give ground gradually, 
borne down by the riders, and trampled under the 
hoofs of their horses. Through the whole of this 
sharp encounter the Indian allies were of great service 
to the Spaniards. They rushed into the water, and 
grappled their enemies, with the desperation of men 
who felt that " their only safety was in the despair of 
safety. " "> "I see nothing but death for us, ' ' exclaimed 
a Cempoallan chief to Marina; "we shall never get 
through the pass alive." " The God of the Christians 
is with us," answered the intrepid woman; "and He 
will carry us safely through. ' ' 28 

Amidst the din of battle, the voice of Cortes was 
heard, cheering on his soldiers. "If we fail now," 
he cried, "the Cross of Christ can never be planted 
in the land. Forward, comrades ! When was it ever 
known that a Castilian turned his back on a foe ?' ' ** 

=7 "Una illis fuit spes salutis, desperasse de salute." (P. Martyr, 
De Orbe Novo, dec. 1, cap. 1.) It is said with the classic energy of 

a8 " Respondiole Marina, que no tuviese miedo, porque el Dios de 
los Christianos, que es muy poderoso, i los queria mucho, los sacaria 
de peligro." Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 6, cap. 5. 

=9 Ibid., ubi supia. 

Vol. I. 36 


Animated by the words and heroic bearing of their 
general, the soldiers, with desperate efforts, at length 
succeeded in forcing a passage through the dark col- 
umns of the enemy, and emerged from the defile on 
the open plain beyond. 

Here they quickly recovered their confidence with 
their superiority. The horse soon opened a space for 
the manoeuvres of the artillery. The close files of 
their antagonists presented a sure mark ; and the thun- 
ders of the ordnance vomiting forth torrents of fire 
and sulphurous smoke, the wide desolation caused in 
their ranks, and the strangely mangled carcasses of 
the slain, filled the barbarians with consternation and 
horror. They had no weapons to cope with these 
terrible engines, and their clumsy missiles, discharged 
from uncertain hands, seemed to fall ineffectual on the 
charmed heads of the Christians. What added to 
their embarrassment was, the desire to carry off the 
dead and wounded from the field, a general practice 
among the people of Anahuac, but one which neces- 
sarily exposed them, while thus employed, to still 
greater loss. 

Eight of their principal chiefs had now fallen, and 
Xicotencatl, finding himself wholly unable to make 
head against the Spaniards in the open field, ordered 
a retreat. Far from the confusion of a panic-struck 
mob, so common among barbarians, the Tlascalan 
force moved off the ground with all the order of a 
well-disciplined army. Cortes, as on the preceding 
day, was too well satisfied with his present advantage 
to desire to follow it up. It was within an hour of 
sunset, and he was anxious before nightfall to secure a 



good position, where he might refresh his wounded 
troops and bivouac for the night. 30 

Gathering up his wounded, he held on his way, 
without loss of time, and before dusk reached a rocky 
eminence, called Tzompachtepetl, or " the hill of Tzom- 
pach,*' It was crowned by a sort of tower or temple, 
the remains of which are still visible. 31 His first 
care was given to the wounded, both men and horses. 
Fortunately, an abundance of provisions was found in 
some neighboring cottages; and the soldiers, at least 
all who were not disabled by their injuries, celebrated 
the victory of the day with feasting and rejoicing. 

As to the number of killed or wounded on either 
side, it is matter of loosest conjecture. The Indians 
must have suffered severely, but the practice of carrying 
off the dead from the field made it impossible to know 
to what extent. The injury sustained by the Span- 
iards appears to have been principally in the number 
of their wounded. The great object of the natives 
of Anahuac in their battles was to make prisoners, 
who might grace their triumphs and supply victims 
for sacrifice. To this brutal superstition the Christians 
were indebted, in no slight degree, for their personal 
preservation. To take the reports of the Conquerors, 
their own losses in action were always inconsiderable. 
But whoever has had occasion to consult the ancient 
chroniclers of Spain in relation to its wars with the 

3° Oviedo, Hist, de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 3, 45. — Ixtlilxochitl, 
Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83. — Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, p. 
51. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 63. — Gomara, Cronica, 
cap. 40. 

3 1 Viaje de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, p. ix. 


infidel, whether Arab or American, will place little 
confidence in numbers. 32 

The events of the day had suggested many topics 
for painful reflection to Cortes. He had nowhere met 
with so determined a resistance within the borders of 
Anahuac; nowhere had he encountered native troops 
so formidable for their weapons, their discipline, and 
their valor. Far from manifesting the superstitious 
terrors felt by the other Indians at the strange arms 
and aspect of the Spaniards, the Tlascalans had boldly 
grappled with their enemy, and only yielded to the 
inevitable superiority of his military science. How 
important would the alliance of such a nation be in a 
struggle with those of their own race, — for example, 
with the Aztecs ! But how was he to secure this 
alliance? Hitherto, all overtures had been rejected 
with disdain ; and it seemed probable that every step 
of his progress in this populous land was to be fiercely 
contested. His army, especially the Indians, cele- 
brated the events of the day with feasting and dancing, 
songs of merriment, and shouts of triumph. Cortes 
encouraged it, well knowing how important it was to 
keep up the spirits of his soldiers. But the sounds of 

32 According to Cortes, not a Spaniard fell — though many were 
wounded — in this action so fatal to the infidel ! Diaz allows one. In 
the famous battle of Navas de Tolosa, between the Spaniards and 
Arabs, in 1212, equally matched in military science at that time, there 
were left 200,000 of the latter on the field ; and, to balance this bloody 
roll, only five-and-twenty Christians! See the estimate in Alfonso 
IX.'s veracious letter, ap. Mariana (Hist, de Espana, lib. 2, cap. 24). 
The official returns of the old Castilian crusaders, whether in the Old 
World or the New, are scarcely more trustworthy than a French 
imperial bulletin in our day. 



revelry at length died away ; and, in the still watches 
of the night, many an anxious thought must have 
crowded on the mind of the general, while his little 
army lay buried in slumber in its encampment around 
the Indian hill. 

36 J 





The Spaniards were allowed to repose undisturbed 
the following day, and to recruit their strength after 
the fatigue and hard fighting of the preceding. They 
found sufficient employment, however, in repairing 
and cleaning their weapons, replenishing their dimin- 
ished stock of arrows, and getting everything in order 
for further hostilities, should the severe lesson they had 
inflicted on the enemy prove insufficient to discourage 
him. On the second day, as Cortes received no over- 
tures from the Tlascalans, he determined to send an 
embassy to their camp, proposing a cessation of hos- 
tilities, and expressing his intention to visit their cap- 
ital as a friend. He selected two of the principal 
chiefs taken in the late engagement, as the bearers of 
the message. 

Meanwhile, averse to leaving his men longer in a 
dangerous state of inaction, which the enemy might 
interpret as the result of timidity or exhaustion, he 
put himself at the head of the cavalry and such light 
troops as were most fit for service, and made a foray 
into the neighboring country. It was a mountainous 
region, formed by a ramification of the great sierra of 



Tlascala, with verdant slopes and valleys teeming with 
maize and plantations of maguey, while the eminences 
were crowned with populous towns and villages. In 
one of these, he -tells us, he found three thousand 
dwellings. 1 In some places he met with a resolute 
resistance, and on these occasions took ample ven- 
geance by laying the country waste with fire and sword. 
After a successful inroad he returned laden with forage 
and provisions and driving before him several hundred 
Indian captives. He treated them kindly, however, 
when arrived in camp, endeavoring to make them un- 
derstand that these acts of violence were not dictated 
by his own wishes, but by the unfriendly policy of 
their countrymen. In this way he hoped to impress 
the nation with the conviction of his power on the 
one hand, and of his amicable intentions, if met by 
them in the like spirit, on the other. 

On reaching his quarters, he found the two envoys 
returned from the Tlascalan camp. They had fallen 
in with Xicotencatl at about two leagues' distance, 
where he lay encamped with a powerful force. The 
cacique gave them audience at the head of his troops. 
He told them to return with the answer, " that the 
Spaniards might pass on as soon as they chose to Tlas- 
cala ; and, when they reached it, their flesh would be 
hewn from their bodies, for sacrifice to the gods ! If 

1 Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, p. 52. — Oviedo, who made 
free use of the manuscripts of Cortes, writes thirty-nine houses. 
(Hist, de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 3.) This may perhaps be ex- 
plained by the sign for a thousand, in Spanish notation, bearing great 
resemblance to the figure 9. Martyr, who had access, also, to the 
Conqueror's manuscript, confirms the larger and, a priori, less probable 


they preferred to remain in their own quarters, he 
would pay them a visit there the next day. ' ' 2 The 
ambassadors added that the chief had an immense 
force with him, consisting of five battalions of ten 
thousand men each. They were the flower of the 
Tlascalan and Otomi warriors, assembled under the 
banners of their respective leaders, by command of the 
senate, who were resolved to try the fortunes of the 
state in a pitched battle and strike one decisive blow 
for the extermination of the invaders. 3 

This bold defiance fell heavily on the ears of the 
Spaniards, not prepared for so pertinacious a spirit in 
their enemy. They had had ample proof of his courage 
and formidable prowess. They were now, in their 
crippled condition, to encounter him with a still more 
terrible array of numbers. The war, too, from the 
horrible fate with which it menaced the vanquished, 
wore a peculiarly gloomy aspect, that pressed heavily 
on their spirits. "We feared death," says the lion- 
hearted Diaz, with his usual simplicity, " for we were 
men. ' ' There was scarcely one in the army that did 
not confess himself that night to the reverend Father 
Olmedo, who was occupied nearly the whole of it with 

2 " Que fuessemos a su pueblo adonde esta su padre, q alia harian 
las pazes co hartarse de nuestras carries, y honrar sus dioses con nues- 
tros coracones, y sangre, e que para otro dia de manana veriamos su 
respuesta." Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 64. 

3 More than one writer repeats a story of the Tlascalan general's 
sending a good supply of provisions, at this time, to the famished army 
of the Spaniards ; to put them in stomach, it may be, for the fight. 
(Gomara, Cronica, cap. 46. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83.) 
This ultra-chivalrous display from the barbarian is not very probable, 
and Cortes' own account of his successful foray may much better 
explain the abundance which reigned in his camp. 



administering absolution, and with the other solemn 
offices of the Church. Armed with the blessed sacra- 
ments, the Catholic soldier lay tranquilly down to rest, 
prepared for any fate that might betide him under the 
banner of the Cross. 4 

As a battle was now inevitable, Cortes resolved to 
march out and meet the enemy in the field. This 
would have a show of confidence that might serve 
the double purpose of intimidating the Tlascalans and 
inspiriting his own men, whose enthusiasm might lose 
somewhat of its heat if compelled to await the assault 
of their antagonists, inactive in their own intrench- 
ments. The sun rose bright on the following morning, 
the fifth of September, 15 19, an eventful day in the 
history of the Spanish Conquest. The general re- 
viewed his army, and gave them, preparatory to march- 
ing, a few words of encouragement and advice. The 
infantry he instructed to rely on the point rather than 
the edge of their swords, and to endeavor to thrust 
their opponents through the body. The horsemen 
were to charge at half speed, with their lances aimed 
at the eyes of the Indians. The artillery, the arque- 
busiers, and crossbowmen were to support one another, 
some loading while others discharged their pieces, that 
there should be an unintermitted firing kept up through 
the action. Above all, they were to maintain their 
ranks close and unbroken, as on this depended their 

4 Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, p. 52. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. 
Chich., MS., cap. 83. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 46, 47. — Oviedo, Hist 
de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 3. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, 
cap. 64. 



They had not advanced a quarter of a league, when 
they came in sight of the Tlascalan army. Its dense 
array stretched far and wide over a vast plain or 
meadow-ground about six miles square. Its appear- 
ance justified the report which had been given of its 
numbers. 5 Nothing could be more picturesque than 
the aspect of these Indian battalions, with the naked 
bodies of the common soldiers gaudily painted, the 
fantastic helmets of the chiefs glittering with gold and 
precious stones, and the glowing panoplies of feather- 
work which decorated their persons. 6 Innumerable 
spears and darts, tipped with points of transparent itztli 
or fiery copper, sparkled bright in the morning sun, 
like the phosphoric gleams playing on the surface of a 
troubled sea, while the rear of the mighty host was 
dark with the shadows of banners, on which were 
emblazoned the armorial bearings of the great Tlas- 

5 Through the magnifying lens of Cortes, there appeared to be 
150,000 men(Rel. Seg., ap. Lorenzana, p. 52); a number usually 
preferred by succeeding writers. 

" Not half so gorgeous, for their May-day mirth 
All wreathed and ribanded, our youths and maids, 
As these stern Tlascalans in war attire ! 
The golden glitterance, and the feather-mail 
More gay than glittering gold ; and round the helm 
A coronal of high upstanding plumes, 
Green as the spring grass in a sunny shower ; 
Or scarlet bright, as in the wintry wood 
The clustered holly ; or of purple tint ; 
Whereto shall that be likened? to what gem 
Indiademed, what flower, what insect's wing? 
With war-songs and wild music they came on ; 
We, the while kneeling, raised with one accord 
The hymn of supplication." 

Southey's Madoc, Part x, canto 7. 



calan and Otomi chieftains. 7 Among these, the white 
heron on the rock, the cognizance of the house of 
Xicotencatl, was conspicuous, and, still more, the 
golden eagle with outspread wings, in the fashion of a 
Roman signum, richly ornamented with emeralds and 
silver-work, the great standard of the republic of 
Tlascala. 8 

The common file wore no covering except a girdle 
round the loins. Their bodies were painted with the 
appropriate colors of the chieftain whose banner they 
followed. The feather-mail of the higher class of war- 
riors exhibited, also, a similar selection of colors for 
the like object, in the same manner as the color of the 
tartan indicates the peculiar clan of the Highlander. 9 

t The standards of the Mexicans were carried in the centre, those 
of the Tlascalans in the rear of the army. (Clavigero, Stor. del 
Messico, vol. ii. p. 145.) According to the Anonymous Conqueror, 
the banner-staff was attached to the back of the ensign, so that it was 
impossible to be torn away. " Ha ogni copagnia il suo Alfiere con la 
sua insegna inhastata, et in tal modo ligata sopra le spalle, che non 
gli da alcun disturbo di poter combattere ne far cio che vuole, et la 
porta cosi ligata bene al corpo, che se no fanno del suo corpo pezzi, 
non se gli puo sligare, ne torgliela mai." Rel. d'un gentil' huomo. 
ap. Ramusio, torn. iii. fol. 305. 

8 Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. — Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 2, 
lib. 6, cap. 6. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 46. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la 
Conquista, cap. 64. — Oviedo, Hist, de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 45. 
— The last two authors speak of the device of " a white bird like 
an ostrich," as that of the republic. They have evidently confounded 
it with that of the Indian general. Camargo, who has given the 
heraldic emblems of the four great families of Tlascala, notices the 
white heron as that of Xicotencatl. 

9 The accounts of the Tlascalan chronicler are confirmed by the 
Anonymous Conqueror and by Bernal Diaz, both eyewitnesses ; 
though the latter frankly declares that had he not seen them with his 
own eyes he should never have credited the existence of orders and 


The caciques and principal warriors were clothed in 
quilted cotton tunics, two inches thick, which, fitting 
close to the body, protected also the thighs and the 
shoulders. Over these the wealthier Indians wore cui- 
rasses of thin gold plate, or silver. Their legs were 
defended by leathern boots or sandals, trimmed with 
gold. But the most brilliant part of their costume was 
a rich mantle of the plumaje or feather-work, em- 
broidered with curious art, and furnishing some resem- 
blance to the gorgeous surcoat worn by the European 
knight over his armor in the Middle Ages. This 
graceful and picturesque dress was surmounted by a 
fantastic head-piece made of wood or leather, repre- 
senting the head of some wild animal, and frequently 
displaying a formidable array of teeth. With this cov- 
ering the warrior's head was enveloped, producing a 
most grotesque and hideous effect. 10 From the crown 
floated a splendid panache of the richly variegated 
plumage of the tropics, indicating, by its form and 
colors, the rank and family of the wearer. To com- 
plete their defensive armor, they carried shields or 
targets, made sometimes of wood covered with leather, 
but more usually of a light frame of reeds quilted with 
cotton, which were preferred, as tougher and less liable 

badges among the barbarians, like those found among the civilized 
nations of Europe. Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 64, et alibi. — Camargo, 
Hist, de Tlascala, MS. — Rel. d'un gentil' huomo, ap. Ramusio, torn, 
iii. fol. 305. 

10 •• Portano in testa," says the Anonymous Conqueror, "per difesa 
una cosa come teste di serpeti, 6 di tigri, 6 di leoni, 6 di lupi, che ha 
le mascelle, et e la testa dell' huomo messa nella testa di qsto animale 
come se lo volesse diuorare: sono di legno, et sopra vi e la pena, et di 
piastra d'oro et di pietre preciose copte, che e cosa marauigliosa da 
vedere." Rel. d'un gentil' huomo, ap. Ramusio, torn. iii. fol. 305. 



to fracture than the former. They had other bucklers, 
in which the cotton was covered with an elastic sub- 
stance, enabling them to be shut up in a more com- 
pact form, like a fan or umbrella. These shields were 
decorated with showy ornaments, according to the 
taste or wealth of the wearer, and fringed with a 
beautiful pendant of feather-work. 

Their weapons were slings, bows and arrows, jave- 
lins, and darts. They were accomplished archers, 
and would discharge two or even three arrows at a 
time. But they most excelled in throwing the javelin. 
One species of this, with a thong attached to it, which 
remained in the slinger's hand, that he might recall 
the weapon, was especially dreaded by the Spaniards. 
These various weapons were pointed with bone, or the 
mineral itztli (obsidian), the hard vitreous substance 
already noticed as capable of taking an edge like a 
razor, though easily blunted. Their spears and arrows 
were also frequently headed with copper. Instead of 
a sword, they bore a two-handed staff, about three feet 
and a half long, in which, at regular distances, were 
inserted, transversely, sharp blades of itztli, — a formi- 
dable weapon, which, an eyewitness assures us, he had 
seen fell a horse at a blow." 

Such was the costume of the Tlascalan warrior, and, 
indeed, of that great family of nations generally who 
occupied the plateau of Anahuac. Some parts of it, as 

11 " I saw one day an Indian make a thrust at the horse ot a cava- 
lier with whom he was fighting, which pierced its breast, and pene- 
trated so deep that it immediately fell dead ; and the same day I saw 
another Indian cut the neck of a horse, which fell dead at his feet." 
Rel. d'un gentil' huomo, ap. Ramusio, torn. iii. fol. 305. 
VOL. I.— T 37 



the targets and the cotton mail, or escaupil, as it was 
called in Castilian, were so excellent that they were 
subsequently adopted by the Spaniards, as equally 
effectual in the way of protection, and superior on the 
score of lightness and convenience to their own. They 
were of sufficient strength to turn an arrow or the stroke 
of a javelin, although impotent as a defence against 
fire-arms. But what armor is not ? Yet it is probably 
no exaggeration to say that, in convenience, graceful- 
ness, and strength, the arms of the Indian warrior were 
not very inferior to those of the polished nations of 
antiquity. 12 

As soon as the Castilians came in sight, the Tlas- 
calans set up their yell of defiance, rising high above 
the wild barbaric minstrelsy of shell, atabal, and trum- 
pet, with which they proclaimed their triumphant an- 
ticipations of victory over the paltry forces of the 
invaders. When the latter had come within bowshot, 
the Indians hurled a tempest of missiles, that darkened 
the sun for a moment as with a passing cloud, strewing 
the earth around with heaps of stones and arrows. 13 
Slowly and steadily the little band of Spaniards held 
on its way amidst this arrowy shower, until it had 
reached what appeared the proper distance for deliver- 
ing its fire with full effect. Cortes then halted, and, 

12 Particular notices of the military dress and appointments of the 
American tribes on the plateau may be found in Camargo, Hist, de 
Tlascala, MS., — Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, torn. ii. p. ioi, et seq., — ■ 
Acosta, lib. 6, cap. 26, — Rel. d'un gentil' huomo, ap. Ramusio, torn, 
iii. fol. 305, et auct. al. 

»3 " Que granizo de piedra de los honderos ! Pues flechas todo el 
suelo hecho parva de varas todas de a dos gajos, que passan qual- 
quiera arma, y las entrafias adonde no ay defensa." Bernal Diaz, 
Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 65. 



hastily forming his troops, opened a general well- 
directed fire along the whole line. Every shot bore 
its errand of death ; and the ranks of the Indians were 
mowed down faster than their comrades in the rear 
could carry off their bodies, according to custom, from 
the field. The balls in their passage through the 
crowded files, bearing splinters of the broken harness 
and mangled limbs of the warriors, scattered havoc and 
desolation in their path. The mob of barbarians stood 
petrified with dismay, till at length, galled to despera- 
tion by their intolerable suffering, they poured forth 
simultaneously their hideous war-shriek and rushed im- 
petuously on the Christians. 

On they came like an avalanche, or mountain tor- 
rent, shaking the solid earth and sweeping away every 
obstacle in its path. The little army of Spaniards op- 
posed a bold front to the overwhelming mass. But no 
strength could withstand it. They faltered, gave way, 
were borne along before it, and their ranks were broken 
and thrown into disorder. It was in vain the general 
called on them to close again and rally. His voice was 
drowned by the din of fight and the fierce cries of the 
assailants. For a moment, it seemed that all was lost. 
The tide of battle had turned against them, and the 
fate of the Christians was sealed. 

But every man had that within his bosom which 
spoke louder than the voice of the general. Despair 
gave unnatural energy to his arm. The naked body of 
the Indian afforded no resistance to the sharp Toledo 
steel ; and with their good swords the Spanish infantry 
at length succeeded in staying the human torrent. The 
heavy guns from a distance thundered on the flank 


of the assailants, which, shaken by the iron tempest, 
was thrown into disorder. Their very numbers in- 
creased the confusion, as they were precipitated on the 
masses in front. The horse at the same moment, 
charging gallantly under Cortes, followed up the ad- 
vantage, and at length compelled the tumultuous throng 
to fall back with greater precipitation and disorder than 
that with which they had advanced. 

More than once in the course of the action a similar 
assault was attempted by the Tlascalans, but each 
time with less spirit and greater loss. They were too 
deficient in military science to profit by their vast 
superiority in numbers. They were distributed into 
companies, it is true, each serving under its own chief- 
tain and banner. But they were not arranged by rank 
and file, and moved in a confused mass, promiscuously 
heaped together. They knew not how to concentrate 
numbers on a given point, or even how to sustain an 
assault, by employing successive detachments to sup- 
port and relieve one another. A very small part only 
of their array could be brought into contact with an 
enemy inferior to them in amount of forces. The 
remainder of the army, inactive and worse than use- 
less, in the rear, served only to press tumultuously on 
the advance and embarrass its movements by mere 
weight of numbers, while on the least alarm they were 
seized with a panic and threw the whole body into 
inextricable confusion. It was, in short, the combat 
of the ancient Greeks and Persians over again. 

Still, the great numerical superiority of the Indians 
might have enabled them, at a severe cost of their own 
lives, indeed, to wear out, in time, the constancy of 



the Spaniards, disabled by wounds and incessant fatigue. 
But, fortunately for the latter, dissensions arose among 
their enemies. A Tlascalan chieftain, commanding 
one of the great divisions, had taken umbrage at the 
haughty demeanor of Xicotencatl, who had charged 
him with misconduct or cowardice in the late action. 
The injured cacique challenged his rival to single com- 
bat. This did not take place. But, burning with 
resentment, he chose the present occasion to indulge 
it, by drawing off his forces, amounting to ten thou- 
sand men, from the field. He also persuaded another 
of the commanders to follow his example. 

Thus reduced to about half his original strength, and 
that greatly crippled by the losses of the day, Xicoten- 
catl could no longer maintain his ground against the 
Spaniards. After disputing the field with admirable 
courage for four hours, he retreated and resigned it to 
the enemy. The Spaniards were too much jaded, and 
too many were disabled by wounds, to allow them to 
pursue ; and Cortes, satisfied with the decisive victory 
he had gained, returned in triumph to his position on 
the hill of Tzompach. 

The number of killed in his own ranks had been very 
small, notwithstanding the severe loss inflicted on the 
enemy. These few he was careful to bury where they 
could not be discovered, anxious to conceal not only the 
amount of the slain, but the fact that the whites were 
mortal. 14 But very many of the men were wounded, 

u So says Bernal Diaz ; who at the same time, by the epithets los 
muertos, los cuerpos, plainly contradicts his previous boast that only 
one Christian fell in the fight. (Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 65.) 
Cortes has not the grace to acknowledge that one. 



and all the horses. The trouble of the Spaniards 
was much enhanced by the want of many articles im- 
portant to them in their present exigency. They had 
neither oil nor salt, which, as before noticed, was not 
to be obtained in Tlascala. Their clothing, accom- 
modated to a softer climate, was ill adapted to the 
rude air of the mountains; and bows and arrows, 
as Bernal Diaz sarcastically remarks, formed an in- 
different protection against the inclemency of the 
weather. 13 

Still, they had much to cheer them in the events of 
the day ; and they might draw from them a reasonable 
ground for confidence in their own resources, such as 
no other experience could have supplied. Not that the 
results could authorize anything like contempt for their 
Indian foe. Singly and with the same weapons, he 
might have stood his ground against the Spaniard. 16 
But the success of the day established the superiority 

*5 Oviedo, Hist, de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 3. — Rel. Seg. de Cor- 
tes, ap. Lorenzana, p. 52. — Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 6, cap. 
6. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 
46. — Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 32. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, 
de la Conquista, cap. 65, 66. — The warm, chivalrous glow of feeling 
which colors the rude composition of the last chronicler makes him a 
better painter than his more correct and classical rivals. And, if there 
is somewhat too much of the self-complacent tone of the quortim pars 
magna fui in his writing, it may be pardoned in the hero of more than 
a hundred battles and almost as many wounds. 

16 The Anonymous Conqueror bears emphatic testimony to the valor 
of the Indians, specifying instances in which he had seen a single war- 
rior defend himself for a long time against two, three, and even four 
Spaniards 1 " Sono fra loro di valetissimi huomini et che ossano morir 
ostinatissimamete. Et io ho veduto un d' essi difendersi valetemente 
da duoi caualli leggieri, et un altro da tre, et quattro." Rel. d'un 
gentil' huomo, ap. Ramusio, torn. iii. fol. 305. 



of science and discipline over mere physical courage 
and numbers. It was fighting over again, as we have 
said, the old battle of the European and the Asiatic. 
But the handful of Greeks who routed the hosts of 
Xerxes and Darius, it must be remembered, had not so 
obvious an advantage on the score of weapons as was 
enjoyed by the Spaniards in these wars. The use of 
fire-arms gave an ascendency which cannot easily be 
estimated ; one so great, that a contest between nations 
equally civilized, which should be similar in all other 
respects to that between the Spaniards and the Tlas- 
calans, would probably be attended with a similar issue. 
To all this must be added the effect produced by the 
cavalry. The nations of Anahuac had no large domes- 
ticated animals, and were unacquainted with any beast 
of burden. Their imaginations were bewildered when 
they beheld the strange apparition of the horse and his 
rider moving in unison and obedient to one impulse, 
as if possessed of a common nature ; and as they saw 
the terrible animal, with his "neck clothed in thun- 
der," bearing down their squadrons and trampling 
them in the dust, no wonder they should have regarded 
him with the mysterious terror felt for a supernatural 
being. A very little reflection on the manifold grounds 
of superiority, both moral and physical, possessed by 
the Spaniards in this contest, will surely explain the 
issue, without any disparagement to the courage or 
capacity of their opponents. 17 

•7 The appalling effect of the cavalry on the natives reminds one of 
the confusion into which the Roman legions were thrown by the strange 
appearance of the elephants in their first engagements with Pyrrhus, 
as told by Plutarch in his life of that prince. 


Cortes, thinking the occasion favorable, followed up 
the important blow he had struck by a new mission to 
the capital, bearing a message of similar import with 
that recently sent to the camp. But the senate was not 
yet sufficiently humbled. The late defeat caused, in- 
deed, general consternation. Maxixcatzin, one of the 
four great lords who presided over the republic, re- 
iterated with greater force the arguments before urged 
by him for embracing the proffered alliance of the 
strangers. The armies of the state had been beaten 
too often to allow any reasonable hope of successful re- 
sistance ; and he enlarged on the generosity shown by 
the politic Conqueror to his prisoners — so unusual in 
Anahuac — as an additional motive for an alliance with 
men who knew how to be friends as well as foes. 

But in these views he was overruled by the war-party, 
whose animosity was sharpened, rather than subdued, 
by the late discomfiture. Their hostile feelings were 
further exasperated by the younger Xicotencatl, who 
burned for an opportunity to retrieve his disgrace, and 
to wipe away the stain which had fallen for the first 
time on the arms of the republic. 

In their perplexity they called in the assistance of 
the priests, whose authority was frequently invoked in 
the deliberations of the American chiefs. The latter 
inquired, with some simplicity, of these interpreters 
of fate, whether the strangers were supernatural beings, 
or men of flesh and blood like themselves. The priests, 
after some consultation, are said to have made the 
strange answer that the Spaniards, though not gods, 
were children of the Sun, that they derived their 
strength from that luminary, and when his beams were 



withdrawn their powers would also fail. They recom- 
mended a night-attack, therefore, as one which afforded 
the best chance of success. This apparently childish 
response may have had in it more of cunning than 
credulity. It was not improbably suggested by Xico- 
tencatl himself, or by the caciques in his interest, to 
reconcile the people to a measure which was contrary 
to the military usages — indeed, it may be said, to the 
public law — of Anahuac. Whether the fruit of artifice 
or superstition, it prevailed ; and the Tlascalan general 
was empowered, at the head of a detachment of ten 
thousand warriors, to try the effect of an assault by 
night on the Christian camp. 

The affair was conducted with such secrecy that it 
did not reach the ears of the Spaniards. But their 
general was not one who allowed himself, sleeping 
or waking, to be surprised on his post. Fortunately, 
the night appointed was illumined by the full beams 
of an autumnal moon ; and one of the vedettes per- 
ceived by its light, at a considerable distance, a large 
body of Indians moving towards the Christian lines. 
He was not slow in giving the alarm to the gar- 

The Spaniards slept, as has been said, with their 
arms by their side ; while their horses, picketed near 
them, stood ready saddled, with the bridle hanging at 
the bow. In five minutes the whole camp was under 
arms ; when they beheld the dusky columns of the 
Indians cautiously advancing over the plain, their heads 
just peering above the tall maize with which the land 
was partially covered. Cortes determined not to abide 
the assault in his intrenchments, but to sally out and 


pounce on the enemy when he had reached the bottom 
of the hill. 

Slowly and stealthily the Indians advanced, while the 
Christian camp, hushed in profound silence, seemed 
to them buried in slumber. But no sooner had they 
reached the slope of the rising ground than they were 
astounded by the deep battle-cry of the Spaniards, 
followed by the instantaneous apparition of the whole 
army, as they sallied forth from the works and poured 
down the sides of the hill. Brandishing aloft their 
weapons, they seemed to the troubled fancies of the 
Tlascalans like so many spectres or demons hurrying 
to and fro in mid air, while the uncertain light mag- 
nified their numbers and expanded the horse and his 
rider into gigantic and unearthly dimensions. 

Scarcely awaiting the shock of their enemy, the panic- 
struck barbarians let off a feeble volley of arrows, and, 
offering no other resistance, fled rapidly and tumultu- 
ously across the plain. The horse easily overtook the 
fugitives, riding them down and cutting them to pieces 
without mercy, until Cortes, weary with slaughter, called 
off his men, leaving the field loaded with the bloody 
trophies of victory. 18 

The next day, the Spanish commander, with his 
usual policy after a decisive blow had been struck, sent 
a new embassy to the Tlascalan capital. The envoys 
received their instructions through the interpreter, 
Marina. That remarkable woman had attracted gen- 

lB Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, pp. 53, 54. — Oviedo, Hist, 
de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 3. — P. Martyr, De Orbe Novo, dec. 2, 
cap. 2. — Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 4. cap. 32. — Herrera, Hist, 
general, dec. 2, lib. 6, cap. 8. — Bernal Dia^, Hist, de la Conquista, 
cap. 66. 


eral admiration by the constancy and cheerfulness with 
which she endured all the privations of the camp. Far 
from betraying the natural weakness and timidity of 
her sex, she had shrunk from no hardship herself, and 
had done much to fortify the drooping spirits of the 
soldiers ; while her sympathies, whenever occasion 
offered, had been actively exerted in mitigating the 
calamities of her Indian countrymen. 19 

Through his faithful interpreter, Cortes communi- 
cated the terms of his message to the Tlascalan envoys. 
He made the same professions of amity as before, 
promising oblivion of all past injuries; but, if this 
proffer were rejected, he would visit their capital as a 
conqueror, raze every house in it to the ground, and 
put every inhabitant to the sword ! He then dismissed 
the ambassadors with the symbolical presents of a letter 
in one hand and an arrow in the other. 

The envoys obtained respectful audience from the 
council of Tlascala, whom they found plunged in deep 
dejection by their recent reverses. The failure of the 
night-attack had extinguished every spark of hope in 
their bosoms. Their armies had been beaten again 
and again, in the open field and in secret ambush. 
Stratagem and courage, all their resources, had alike 
proved ineffectual against a foe whose hand was never 
weary and whose eye was never closed. Nothing re- 
mained but to submit. They selected four principal 
caciques, whom they intrusted with a mission to the 

J 9 " Though she heard them every day talk of killing us and eating 
our flesh, though she had seen us surrounded in past battles, and knew 
that we were now all of us wounded and suffering, yet we never saw 
any weakness in her, but a courage far beyond that of woman." Bernal 
Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 66. 


Christian camp. They were to assure the strangers 
of a free passage through the country, and a friendly 
reception in the capital. The proffered friendship of 
the Spaniards was cordially embraced, with many awk- 
ward excuses for the past. The envoys were to touch 
at the Tlascalan camp on their way, and inform Xico- 
tencatl of their proceedings. They were to require 
him, at the same time, to abstain from all further 
hostilities and to furnish the white men with an ample 
supply of provisions. 

But the Tlascalan deputies, on arriving at the quar- 
ters of that chief, did not find him in the humor 
to comply with these instructions. His repeated col- 
lisions with the Spaniards, or, it may be, his consti- 
tutional courage, left him inaccessible to the vulgar 
terrors of his countrymen. He regarded the strangers 
not as supernatural beings, but as men like himself. 
The animosity of a warrior had rankled into a deadly 
hatred from the mortifications he had endured at their 
hands, and his head teemed with plans for recovering 
his fallen honors and for taking vengeance on the 
invaders of his country. He refused to disband any 
of the force, still formidable, under his command, or 
to send supplies to the enemy's camp. He further 
induced the ambassadors to remain in his quarters and 
relinquish their visit to the Spaniards. The latter, in 
consequence, were kept in ignorance of the move- 
ments in their favor which had taken place in the 
Tlascalan capital. 20 

The conduct of Xicotencatl is condemned by Cas- 

20 Bernal Diaz, Hist de la Conquista, cap. 67. — Camargo, Hist, de 
Tlascala, MS.— Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83. 



tilian writers as that of a ferocious and sanguinary 
barbarian. It is natural they should so regard it. But 
those who have no national prejudice to warp their 
judgments may come to a different conclusion. They 
may find much to admire in that high, unconquerable 
spirit, like some proud column standing alone in its 
majesty amidst the fragments and ruins around its 
They may see evidences of a clear-sighted sagacity, 
which, piercing the thin veil of insidious friendship 
proffered by the Spaniards, and penetrating the future, 
discerned the coming miseries of his country; the 
noble patriotism of one who would rescue that coun- 
try at any cost, and, amidst the gathering darkness, 
would infuse his own intrepid spirit into the hearts 
of his nation, to animate them to a last struggle for 

Vol. I. 





Desirous to keep up the terror of the Castilian name 
by leaving the enemy no respite, Cortes, on the same 
day that he despatched the embassy to Tlascala, put 
himself at the head of a small corps of cavalry and 
light troops to scour the neighboring country. He 
was at that time so ill from fever, aided by medical 
treatment, 1 that he could hardly keep his seat in the 
saddle. It was a rough country, and the sharp winds 
from the frosty summits of the mountains pierced the 
scanty covering of the troops and chilled both men 
and horses. Four or five of the animals gave out, and 
the general, alarmed for their safety, sent them back to 
the camp. The soldiers, discouraged by this ill omen, 
would have persuaded him to return. But he made 
answer, "We fight under the banner of the Cross; 

1 The effect of the medicine — though rather a severe dose, accord- 
ing to the precise Diaz — was suspended during the general's active 
exertions. Gomara, however, does not consider this a miracle. 
(Cronica, cap. 49.) Father Sandoval does. (Hist, de Carlos Quinto, 
torn. i. p. 127.) Soli's, after a conscientious inquiry into this per- 
plexing matter, decides — strange as it may seem — against the father! 
Conquista, lib. 2, cap. 20. 

( 446 ) 



God is stronger than nature," 2 and continued his 

It led through the same kind of checkered scenery 
of rugged hill and cultivated plain as that already 
described, well covered with towns and villages, some 
of them the frontier posts occupied by the Otomies. 
Practising the Roman maxim of lenity to the submis- 
sive foe, he took full vengeance on those who resisted, 
and, as resistance too often occurred, marked his path 
with fire and desolation. After a short absence, he 
returned in safety, laden with the plunder of a success- 
ful foray. It would have been more honorable to him 
had it been conducted with less rigor. The excesses 
are imputed by Bernal Diaz to the Indian allies, whom 
in the heat of victory it was found impossible to 
restrain. 3 On whose head soever they fall, they seem 
to have given little uneasiness to the general, who 
declares in his letter to the emperor Charles the Fifth, 
"As we fought under the standard of the Cross, 4 for 

2 " Dios es sobre natura." Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, 

P- 54- 

3 Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 64. — Not so Cortes, who says, boldly, 
" I burned more than ten towns." (Ibid., p. 52.) His reverend com- 
mentator specifies the localities of the Indian towns destroyed by him 
in his forays. Viaje, ap. Lorenzana, pp. ix.-xi. 

« [Lorenzana speaks of two standards as borne by Cortes in the 
Conquest, one having the image of the Virgin emblazoned on it, the 
other that of the Cross. It may be the latter which is still preserved 
in the Museum of Artillery at Madrid. (Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. 
Lorenzana, p. 52, nota.) In a letter written to me from that capital, 
a few years since, by my friend Mr. George Summer, he remarks, 
" In Madrid, in the Museum of Artillery, is a small mahogany box, 
about a foot square, locked and sealed, which contains, as the inscrip- 
tion above it states, the pendon which Hernan Cortes carried to the 
conquest of Mexico. On applying to the Brigadier Leon de Palacio, 


the true Faith, and the service of your Highness, 
Heaven crowned our arms with such success that, while 
multitudes of the infidel were slain, little loss was suf- 
fered by the Castilians." 5 The Spanish Conquerors, 
to judge from their writings, unconscious of any 
worldly motive lurking in the bottom of their hearts, 
regarded themselves as soldiers of the Church, fighting 
the great battle of Christianity, and in the same edify- 
ing and comfortable light are regarded by most of the 
national historians of a later day. 6 

On his return to the camp, Cortes found a new cause 
of disquietude, in discontents which had broken out 
among the soldiery. Their patience was exhausted by 
a life of fatigue and peril to which there seemed to be 
no end. The battles they had won against such tremen- 
dous odds had not advanced them a jot. The idea of 
their reaching Mexico, says the old soldier so often 
quoted, "was treated as a jest by the whole army;" 7 

the director of the museum, he was so kind as not only to order this 
to be opened, but to come himself with me to examine it. The 
standard is probably the same which Lorenzana, in 1770, speaks of 
as being then in the Secretario de Gobierno. It is of red Damascus 
silk, and has marks of the painting once upon it, but is now completely 
in rags."] 

5 " it como trayamos la Bandera de la Cruz, y punabamos por 
nuestra Fe, y por servicio de Vuestra Sacra Magestad, en su muy 
Real ventura nos dio Dios tanta victoria, que les matamos mucha 
gente, sin que los nuestros recibiessen dafio." Rel. Seg. de Cortes, 
ap. Lorenzana, p. 52. 

6 " It was a notable thing," exclaims Herrera, "to see with what 
humility and devotion all returned praising God, who gave them vic- 
tories so miraculous, by which it was clearly apparent that they were 
favored with the divine assistance." 

7 " Porque entrar en Mexico, teniamoslo por cosa de risa, a causa 
de sus grandes fuercas." Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 66. 


and the indefinite prospect of hostilities with the fero- 
cious people among whom they were now cast threw a 
deep gloom over their spirits. 

Among the malecontents were a number of noisy, 
vaporing persons, such as are found in every camp, 
who, like empty bubbles, are sure to rise to the surface 
and make themselves seen in seasons of agitation. They 
were, for the most part, of the old faction of Velas- 
quez, and had estates in Cuba, to which they turned 
many a wistful glance as they receded more and more 
from the coast. They now waited on the general, not 
in a mutinous spirit of resistance (for they remembered 
the lesson in Villa Rica), but with the design of frank 
expostulation, as with a brother adventurer in a com- 
mon cause. 8 The tone of familiarity thus assumed was 
eminently characteristic of the footing of equality on 
which the parties in the expedition stood with one 

Their sufferings, they told him, were too great to be 
endured. All the men had received one, most of them 
two or three wounds. More than fifty had perished, 
in one way or another, since leaving Vera Cruz. There 
was no beast of burden but led a life preferable to 
theirs. For, when the night came, the former could 
rest from his labors ; but they, fighting or watching, 
had no rest, day nor night. As to conquering Mexico, 

8 Diaz indignantly disclaims the idea of mutiny, which Gomara 
attached to this proceeding. "What they said to him was by way of 
counsel, and because they believed it were well said, and not with any 
other intent, since they followed him ever, bravely and loyally ; nor is 
it strange that in an army some good soldiers should offer counsel to 
their captain, especially when such hardships have been endured as 
were by us." Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 71. 



the very thought of it was madness. If they had en- 
countered such opposition from the petty republic of 
Tlascala, what might they not expect from the great 
Mexican empire? There was now a temporary suspen- 
sion of hostilities. They should avail themselves of it 
to retrace their steps to Vera Cruz. It is true, the 
fleet there was destroyed ; and by this act, unparalleled 
for rashness even in Roman annals, the general had 
become responsible for the fate of the whole army. 
Still there was one vessel left. That might be de- 
spatched to Cuba for reinforcements and supplies ; and, 
when these arrived, they would be enabled to resume 
operations with some prospect of success. 

Cortes listened to this singular expostulation with 
perfect composure. He knew his men, and, instead of 
rebuke or harsher measures, replied in the same frank 
and soldier-like vein which they had affected. 

There was much truth, he allowed, in what they said. 
The sufferings of the Spaniards had been great ; greater 
than those recorded of any heroes in Greek or Roman 
story. So much the greater would be their glory. He 
had often been filled with admiration as he had seen 
his little host encircled by myriads of barbarians, and 
felt that no people but Spaniards could have triumphed 
over such formidable odds. Nor could they, unless the 
arm of the Almighty had been over them. And they 
might reasonably look for his protection hereafter ; for 
was it not in his cause they were fighting ? They had 
encountered dangers and difficulties, it was true. But 
they had not come here expecting a life of idle dalli- 
ance and pleasure. Glory, as he had told them at the 
outset, was to be won only by toil and danger. They 



would do him the justice to acknowledge that he had 
never shrunk from his share of both. This was a truth, 
adds the honest chronicler who heard and reports the 
dialogue, which no one could deny. But, if they had 
met with hardships, he continued, they had been every- 
where victorious. Even now they were enjoying the 
fruits of this, in the plenty which reigned in the camp. 
And they would soon see the Tlascalans, humbled by 
their late reverses, suing for peace on any terms. To 
go back now was impossible. The very stones would 
rise up against them. The Tlascalans would hunt them 
in triumph down to the water's edge. And how would 
the Mexicans exult at this miserable issue of their vain- 
glorious vaunts ! Their former friends would become 
their enemies ; and the Totonacs, to avert the ven- 
geance of the Aztecs, from which the Spaniards could 
no longer shield them, would join in the general cry. 
There was no alternative, then, but to go forward in 
their career. And he besought them to silence their 
pusillanimous scruples, and, instead of turning their 
eyes towards Cuba, to fix them on Mexico, the great 
object of their enterprise. 

While this singular conference was going on, many 
other soldiers had gathered round the spot ; and the 
discontented party, emboldened by the presence of 
their comrades, as well as by the general's forbearance, 
replied that they were far from being convinced. An- 
other such victory as the last would be their ruin. They 
were going to Mexico only to be slaughtered. Until, 
at length, the general's patience being exhausted, he 
cut the argument short, by quoting a verse from an 
old song, implying that it was better to die with honor 

45 2 


than to live disgraced, — a sentiment which was loudly 
echoed by the greater part of his audience, who, not- 
withstanding their occasional murmurs, had no design 
to abandon the expedition, still less the commander to 
whom they were passionately devoted. The malecon- 
tents, disconcerted by this rebuke, slunk back to their 
own quarters, muttering half-smothered execrations on 
the leader who had projected the enterprise, the Indians 
who had guided him, and their own countrymen who 
supported him in it. 9 

Such were the difficulties that lay in the path of 
Cortes : a wily and ferocious enemy ; a climate uncer- 
tain, often unhealthy ; illness in his own person, much 
aggravated by anxiety as to the manner in which his 
conduct would be received by his sovereign ; last, not 
least, disaffection among his soldiers, on whose con- 
stancy and union he rested for the success of his opera- 
tions, — the great lever by which he was to overturn the 
empire of Montezuma. 

On the morning following this event, the camp was 
surprised by the appearance of a small body of Tlas- 
calans, decorated with badges, the white color of which 
intimated peace. They brought a quantity of pro- 
visions, and some trifling ornaments, which, they said, 
were sent by the Tlascalan general, who was weary of 

9 This conference is reported, with some variety, indeed, by nearly 
every historian. (Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, p. 55. — Oviedo, 
Hist, de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 3. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 51, 52. 
— Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 80. — Herrera, Hist, general, 
dec. 2, lib. 6, cap. 9. — P. Martyr, De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 2.) I 
have abridged the account given by Bernal Diaz, one of the audience, 
though not one of the parties to the dialogue, — for that reason the 
better authority. 



the war and desired an accommodation with the Span- 
iards. He would soon present himself to arrange this 
in person. The intelligence diffused general joy, and 
the emissaries received a friendly welcome. 

A day or two elapsed, and, while a few of the party 
left the Spanish quarters, the others, about fifty in num- 
ber, who remained, excited some distrust in the bosom 
of Marina. She communicated her suspicions to Cortes 
that they were spies. He caused several of them, in 
consequence, to be arrested, examined them separately, 
and ascertained that they were employed by Xicotencatl 
to inform him of the state of the Christian camp, pre- 
paratory to a meditated assault, for which he was mus- 
tering his forces. Cortes, satisfied of the truth of this, 
determined to make such an example of the delinquents 
as should intimidate his enemy from repeating the 
attempt. He ordered their hands to be cut off, and 
in that condition sent them back to their countrymen, 
with the message "that the Tlascalans might come by 
day or night ; they would find the Spaniards ready for 
them. ' ' I0 

The doleful spectacle of their comrades returning in 
this mutilated state filled the Indian camp with horror 
and consternation. The haughty crest of their chief 
was humbled. From that moment he lost his wonted 
buoyancy and confidence. His soldiers, filled with 
superstitious fear, refused to serve longer against a foe 

10 Diaz says only seventeen lost their hands, the rest their thumbs. 
(Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 70.) Cortes does not flinch from confess- 
ing, the hands of the whole fifty : " I ordered that all the fifty should 
have their hands cut off; and I sent them to tell their lord that let 
him come when he would, by night or day, they should see who we 
were." Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, p. 53. 


who could read their very thoughts and divine their 
plans before they were ripe for execution." 

The punishment inflicted by Cortes may well shock 
the reader by its brutality. But it should be consid- 
ered, in mitigation, that the victims of it were spies, 
and, as such, by the laws of war, whether among civ- 
ilized or savage nations, had incurred the penalty of 
death. The amputation of the limbs was a milder 
punishment, and reserved for inferior offences. If 
we revolt at the barbarous nature of the sentence, we 
should reflect that it was no uncommon one at that 
day ; not more uncommon, indeed, than whipping and 
branding with a hot iron were in our own country at 
the beginning of the present century, or than cropping 
the ears was in the preceding one. A higher civiliza- 
tion, indeed, rejects such punishments, as pernicious 
in themselves, and degrading to humanity. But in the 
sixteenth century they were openly recognized by the 
laws of the most polished nations in Europe. And it 
is too much to ask of any man, still less one bred to 
the iron trade of war, to be in advance of the refine- 
ment of his age. We may be content if, in circum- 
stances so unfavorable to humanity, he does not fall 
below it. 

All thoughts of further resistance being abandoned, 
the four delegates of the Tlascalan republic were now 
allowed to proceed on their mission. They were 
speedily followed by Xicotencatl himself, attended by 
a numerous train of military retainers. As they diew 

11 " De que los Tlascaltecas se admiraron, entendiendo que Cortes 
les entendia sus pensamientos." Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 


near the Spanish lines, they were easily recognized by 
the white and yellow colors of their uniforms, the 
livery of the house of Titcala. The joy of the army 
was great at this sure intimation of the close of hostil- 
ities ; and it was with difficulty that Cortes was enabled 
to restore the men to tranquillity and the assumed in- 
difference which it was proper to maintain in presence 
of an enemy. 

The Spaniards gazed with curious eye on the valiant 
chief who had so long kept his enemies at bay, and 
who now advanced with the firm and fearless step of 
one who was coming rather to bid defiance than to 
sue for peace. He was rather above the middle size, 
with broad shoulders, and a muscular frame intimating 
great activity and strength. His head was large, and 
his countenance marked with the lines of hard service 
rather than of age, for he was but thirty-five. When 
he entered the presence of Cortes, he made the usual 
salutation by touching the ground with his hand and 
carrying it to his head ; while the sweet incense of 
aromatic gums rolled up in clouds from the censers 
carried by his slaves. 

Far from a pusillanimous attempt to throw the blame 
on the senate, he assumed the whole responsibility of 
the war. He had considered the white men, he said, 
as enemies, for they came with the allies and vassals 
of Montezuma. He loved his country, and wished to 
preserve the independence which she had maintained 
through her long wars with the Aztecs. He had been 
beaten. They might be the strangers who, it had been 
so long predicted, would come from the east, to take 
possession of the country. He hoped they would use 


their victory with moderation, and not trample on the 
liberties of the republic. He came now in the name 
of his nation, to tender their obedience to the Span- 
iards, assuring them they would find his countrymen 
as faithful in peace as they had been firm in war. 

Cortes, far from taking umbrage, was filled with 
admiration at the lofty spirit which thus disdained to 
stoop beneath misfortunes. The brave man knows 
how to respect bravery in another. He assumed, 
however, a severe aspect, as he rebuked the chief for 
having so long persisted in hostilities. Had Xicoten- 
catl believed the word of the Spaniards, and accepted 
their proffered friendship sooner, he would have spared 
his people much suffering, which they well merited by 
their obstinacy. But it was impossible, continued the 
general, to retrieve the past. He was willing to bury 
it in oblivion, and to receive the Tlascalans as vassals 
to the emperor, his master. If they proved true, they 
should find him a sure column of support ; if false, he 
would take such vengeance on them as he had intended 
to take on their capital had they not speedily given in 
their submission. It proved an ominous menace for 
the chief to whom it was addressed. 

The cacique then ordered his slaves to bring forward 
some trifling ornaments of gold and feather-embroid- 
ery, designed as presents. They were of little value, 
he said, with a smile, for the Tlascalans were poor. 
They had little gold, not even cotton, nor salt. The 
Aztec emperor had left them nothing but their freedom 
and their arms. He offered this gift only as a token 
of his good will. "As such I receive it," answered 
Cortes, "and, coming from the Tlascalans, set more 


value on it than I should from any other source, though 
it were a house full of gold;" — a politic as well as 
magnanimous reply, for it was by the aid of this good 
will that he was to win the gold of Mexico. 12 

Thus ended the bloody war with the fierce republic 
of Tlascala, during the course of which the fortunes 
of the Spaniards more than once had trembled in the 
balance. Had it been persevered in but a little 
longer, it must have ended in their confusion and ruin, 
exhausted as they were by wounds, watching, and 
fatigues, with the seeds of disaffection rankling among 
themselves. As it was, they came out of the fearful 
contest with untarnished glory. To the enemy they 
seemed invulnerable, bearing charmed lives, proof 
alike against the accidents of fortune and the assaults 
of man. No wonder that they indulged a similar con- 
ceit in their own bosoms, and that the humblest Span- 
iard should have fancied himself the subject of a special 
interposition of Providence, which shielded him in the 
hour of battle and reserved him for a higher destiny. 

While the Tlascalans were still in the camp, an 
embassy was announced from Montezuma. Tidings of 
the exploits of the Spaniards had spread far and wide 
over the plateau. The emperor, in particular, had 
watched every step of their progress, as they climbed 
the steeps of the Cordilleras and advanced over the 
broad table-land on their summit. He had seen them, 
with great satisfaction, take the road to Tlascala, 

12 Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap., pp. 56, 57. — Oviedo, Hist, 
de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 3. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 53. — Bernal 
Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 71, et seq. — Sahagun, Hist, de 
Nueva-Espana, MS., lib. 12, cap. 11. 
Vol. I.— U 39 


trusting that, if they were mortal men, they would 
find their graves there. Great was his dismay when 
courier after courier brought him intelligence of their 
successes, and that the most redoubtable warriors on 
the plateau had been scattered like chaff by the swords 
of this handful of strangers. 

His superstitious fears returned in full force. He 
saw in the Spaniards " the men of destiny," who were 
to take possession of his sceptre. In his alarm and 
uncertainty, he sent a new embassy to the Christian 
camp. It consisted of five great nobles of his court, 
attended by a train of two hundred slaves. They 
brought with them a present, as usual, dictated partly 
by fear and in part by the natural munificence of his 
disposition. It consisted of three thousand ounces of 
gold, in grains, or in various manufactured articles, 
with several hundred mantles and dresses of embroid- 
ered cotton and the picturesque feather -work. As 
they laid these at the feet of Cortes, they told him 
they had come to offer the congratulations of their 
master on the late victories of the white men. The 
emperor only regretted that it would not be in his 
power to receive them in his capital, where the numer- 
ous population was so unruly that their safety would 
be placed in jeopardy. The mere intimation of the 
Aztec emperor's wishes, in the most distant way, would 
have sufficed with the Indian nations. It had very 
little weight with the Spaniards ; and the envoys, finding 
this puerile expression of them ineffectual, resorted to 
another argument, offering a tribute in their master's 
name to the Castilian sovereign, provided the Span- 
iards would relinquish their visit to his capital. This 



was a greater error : it was displaying the rich casket 
with one hand which he was unable to defend with 
the other. Yet the author of this pusillanimous policy, 
the unhappy victim of superstition, was a monarch 
renowned among the Indian nations for his intrepidity 
and enterprise, — the terror of Anahuac ! 

Cortes, while he urged his own sovereign's com- 
mands as a reason for disregarding the wishes of Monte- 
zuma, uttered expressions of the most profound respect 
for the Aztec prince, and declared that if he had not 
the means of requiting his munificence, as he could 
wish, at present, he trusted to repay him, at some future 
day, with good works ! I3 

The Mexican ambassadors were not much gratified 
with finding the war at an end, and a reconciliation 
established between their mortal enemies and the Span- 
iards. The mutual disgust of the two parties with each 
other was too strong to be repressed even in the pres- 
ence of the general, who saw with satisfaction the evi- 
dences of a jealousy which, undermining the strength 
of the Indian emperor, was to prove the surest source 
of his own success. 14 

»3 " Cortes recibio con alegria aquel presente, y dixo que se lo tenia 
en merced, y que el lo pagaria al senor Montecuma en buenas obras." 
Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 73. 

i+He dwells on it in his letter to the emperor. "Seeing the dis- 
cord and division between them, I felt not a little pleasure, for it 
appeared to me to suit well with my design, and that through this 
means I might the more easily subjugate them. Moreover I remem- 
bered a text of the Evangelist, which says, ' Every kingdom divided 
against itself is brought to desolation.' I treated therefore with both 
parties, and thanked each in secret for the intelligence it had given me, 
professing to regard it with greater friendship than the other." Rel. 
Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, p. 61. 


Two of the Aztec envoys returned to Mexico, to 
acquaint their sovereign with the state of affairs in the 
Spanish camp. The others remained with the army, 
Cortes being willing that they should be personal spec- 
tators of the deference shown him by the Tlascalans. 
Still he did not hasten his departure for their capital. 
Not that he placed reliance on the injurious intimations 
of the Mexicans respecting their good faith. Yet he 
was willing to put this to some longer trial, and at 
the same time to re-establish his own health more 
thoroughly before his visit. Meanwhile, messengers 
daily arrived from the city, pressing his journey, and 
were finally followed by some of the aged rulers of the 
republic, attended by a numerous retinue, impatient 
of his long delay. They brought with them a body of 
five hundred tamanes, or men of burden, to drag his 
cannon and relieve his own forces from this fatiguing 
part of their duty. It was impossible to defer his de- 
parture longer ; and after mass, and a solemn thanks- 
giving to the great Being who had crowned their arms 
with triumph, the Spaniards. bade adieu to the quarters 
which they had occupied for nearly three weeks on the 
hill of Tzompach. The strong tower, or teocalli, which 
commanded it, was called, in commemoration of their 
residence, "the tower of victory;" and the few stones 
which still survive of its ruins point out to the eye of 
the traveller a spot ever memorable in history for the 
courage and constancy of the early Conquerors. 15 

'5 Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 6, cap. 10. — Oviedo, Hist, de 
las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 4. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 54. — Martyr, 
De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 2. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquists, 
cap. 72-74. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83. 




The city of Tlascala, the capital of the republic of 
the same name, lay at the distance of about six leagues 
from the Spanish camp. The road led into a hilly 
region, exhibiting in every arable patch of ground the 
evidence of laborious cultivation. Over a deep bar- 
ranca, or ravine, they crossed on a bridge of stone, 
which, according to tradition, — a slippery authority, — 
is the same still standing, and was constructed origi- 
nally for the passage of the army. 1 They passed some 
considerable towns on their route, where they ex- 
perienced a full measure of Indian hospitality. As 
they advanced, the approach to a populous city was 
intimated by the crowds who flocked cut to see and 

1 " A distanciade un quarto de legua caminandod esta dicha ciudad 
se encuentra una barranca honda, que tiene para pasar un Puente 
de cal y canto de bbveda, y es tradicion en el pueblo de San Salvador, 
que se hizo en aquellos dias, que estubo alii Cortes para que pasase." 
(Viaje, ap. Lorenzana, p. xi.) If the antiquity of this arched stone 
bridge could be established, it would settle a point much mooted in 
respect to Indian architecture. But the construction of so solid a 
work in so short a time is a fact requiring a better voucher than the 
villagers of San Salvador. 

39* ( 46i ) 


welcome the strangers ; men and women in their 
picturesque dresses, with bunches and wreaths of 
roses, which they gave to the Spaniards, or fastened to 
the necks and caparisons of their horses, in the same 
manner as at Cempoalla. Priests, with their white 
robes, and long matted tresses floating over them, 
mingled in the crowd, scattering volumes of incense 
from their burning censers. In this way, the multitu- 
dinous and motley procession denied through the gates 
of the ancient capital of Tlascala. It was the twenty- 
third of September, 15 19, the anniversary of which is 
still celebrated by the inhabitants as a day of jubilee. 2 
The press was now so great that it was with difficulty 
the police of the city could clear a passage for the 
army ; while the azoteas, or flat terraced roofs of the 
buildings, were covered with spectators, eager to catch 
a glimpse of the wonderful strangers. The houses were 
hung with festoons of flowers, and arches of verdant 
boughs, interwined with roses and honeysuckle, were 
thrown across the streets. The whole population aban- 
doned itself to rejoicing; and the air was rent with 
songs and shouts of triumph, mingled with the wild 
music of the national instruments, that might have ex- 
cited apprehensions in the breasts of the soldiery had 
they not gathered their peaceful import from the as- 
surance of Marina and the joyous countenances of the 

3 Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, torn. iii. p. 53. — " Recibimiento el 
mas solene y famoso que en el mundo se ha visto," exclaims the en- 
thusiastic historian of the republic. He adds that " more than a 
hundred thousand men flocked out to receive the Spaniards ; a thing 
that appears impossible," que parece cosa imposible I It does indeed. 
Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. 


With these accompaniments, the procession moved 
along the principal streets to the mansion of Xico- 
tencatl, the aged father of the Tlascalan general, and 
one of the four rulers of the republic. Cortes dis- 
mounted from his horse to receive the old chieftain's 
embrace. He was nearly blind, and satisfied, as far as 
he could, a natural curiosity respecting the person of 
the Spanish general, by passing his hand over his 
features. He then led the way to a spacious hall in 
his palace, where a banquet was served to the army. 
In the evening they were shown to their quarters, in 
the buildings and open ground surrounding one of the 
principal teocallis ; while the Mexican ambassadors, 
at the desire of Cortes, had apartments assigned them 
next to his own, that he might the better watch over 
their safety in this city of their enemies. 3 

Tlascala was one of the most important and popu- 
lous towns on the table-land. Cortes, in his letter to 
the emperor, compares it to Granada, affirming that 
it was larger, stronger, and more populous than the 
Moorish capital at the time of the conquest, and quite 
as well built. 4 But, notwithstanding we are assured 
by a most respectable writer at the close of the last 

3 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, MS., lib. 12, cap. 11. — Rel. Seg. 
de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, p. 59. — Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. 
— Gomara, Cronica, cap. 54. — Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 6, 
cap. 11. 

4 " La qual ciudad es tan grande, y de tanta admiracion, que aunque 
mucho de lo, que de ella podria decir, dexe, lo poco que dire creo es 
casi increible, porque es muy mayor que Granada, y muy mas fuerte, 
y de tan buenos Edificios, y de muy mucha mas gente, que Granada 
tenia al tiempo que se gano." Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, 
p. 58. 


century that its remains justify the assertion, 5 we shall 
be slow to believe that its edifices could have rivalled 
those monuments of Oriental magnificence, whose 
light, aerial forms still survive after the lapse of ages, 
the admiration of every traveller of sensibility and 
taste. The truth is, that Cortes, like Columbus, saw 
objects through the warm medium of his own fond 
imagination, giving them a higher tone of coloring 
and larger dimensions than were strictly warranted by 
the fact. It was natural that the man who had made 
such rare discoveries should unconsciously magnify 
their merits to his own eyes and to those of others. 

The houses were built, for the most part, of mud or 
earth ; the better sort of stone and lime, or bricks 
dried in the sun. They were unprovided with doors 
or windows, but in the apertures for the former hung 
mats fringed with pieces of copper or something which, 
by its tinkling sound, would give notice of any one's 
entrance. The streets were narrow and dark. The 
population must have been considerable, if, as Cortes 
asserts, thirty thousand souls were often gathered in the 
market on a public day. These meetings were a sort 
of fairs, held, as usual, in all the great 'towns, every fifth 
day, and attended by the inhabitants of the adjacent 
country, who brought there for sale every description 
of domestic produce and manufacture with which they 
were acquainted. They peculiarly excelled in pottery, 
which was considered as equal to the best in Europe. 6 

5 " En las Ruinas, que aun hoy se ven en Tlaxcala, se conoce, que 
no es ponderacion." Rel. Seg. de Cortes, p. 58. Nota del editor, 

6 " Nullum est fictile vas apud nos, quod arte superet ab illis vasa 
formata." Martyr, De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 2. 


It is a further proof of civilized habits that the Span- 
iards found barbers' shops, and baths both of vapor 
and hot water, familiarly used by the inhabitants. A 
still higher proof of refinement may be discerned in a 
vigilant police which repressed everything like disorder 
among the people. 7 

The city was divided into four quarters, which might 
rather be called so many separate towns, since they 
were built at different times, and separated from each 
other by high stone walls, defining their respective 
limits. Over each of these districts ruled one of the 
four great chiefs of the republic, occupying his own 
spacious mansion and surrounded by his own imme- 
diate vassals. Strange arrangement, — and more strange 
that it should have been compatible with social order 
and tranquillity ! The ancient capital, through one 
quarter of which flowed the rapid current of the Za- 
huatl, stretched along the summits and sides of hills, 
at whose base are now gathered the miserable remains 
of its once flourishing population. 8 Far beyond, to 
the southeast, extended the bold sierra of Tlascala, 
and the huge Malinche, crowned with the usual silver 
diadem of the highest Andes, having its shaggy sides 

7 Camargo, Hist, de Tlascala, MS. — Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Loren- 
zana, p. 59. — Oviedo, Hist, de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 4. — Ixtlilxo- 
chitl. Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 83. — The last historian enumerates such 
a number of contemporary Indian authorities for his narrative as of 
itself argues no inconsiderable degree of civilization in the people. 

8 Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 6, cap. 12. — The population of 
a place which Cortes could compare with Granada had dwindled by 
the beginning of the present century to 3400 inhabitants, of whom 
less than a thousand were of the Indian stock. See Humboldt, Essai 
politique, torn. ii. p. 158. 



clothed with dark-green forests of firs, gigantic syca- 
mores, and oaks whose towering stems rose to the 
height of forty or fifty feet, unencumbered by a branch. 
The clouds, which sailed over from the distant Atlantic, 
gathered round the lofty peaks of the sierra, and, set- 
tling into torrents, poured over the plains in the neigh- 
borhood of the city, converting them, at such seasons, 
into swamps. Thunder-storms, more frequent and 
terrible here than in other parts of the table-land, 
swept down the sides of the mountains and shook the 
frail tenements of the capital to their foundations. 
But, although the bleak winds of the sierra gave an 
austerity to the climate, unlike the sunny skies and 
genial temperature of the lower regions, it was far 
more favorable to the development of both the phys- 
ical and moral energies. A bold and hardy peasantry 
was nurtured among the recesses of the hills, fit equally 
to cultivate the land in peace and to defend it in war. 
Unlike the spoiled child of Nature, who derives such 
facilities of subsistence from her too prodigal hand as 
supersede the necessity of exertion on his own part, 
the Tlascalan earned his bread — from a soil not un- 
grateful, it is true — by the sweat of his brow. He 
led a life of temperance and toil. Cut off by his 
long wars with the Aztecs from commercial inter- 
course, he was driven chiefly to agricultural labor, 
the occupation most propitious to purity of morals and 
sinewy strength of constitution. His honest breast 
glowed with the patriotism, or local attachment to the 
soil, which is the fruit of its diligent culture ; while 
he was elevated by a proud consciousness of inde- 
pendence, the natural birthright of the child of the 


mountains. Such was the race with whom Cortes was 
now associated for the achievement of his great work. 

Some days were given by the Spaniards to festivity, 
in which they were successively entertained at the hos- 
pitable boards of the four great nobles, in their several 
quarters of the city. Amidst these friendly demon- 
strations, however, the general never relaxed for a 
moment his habitual vigilance, or the strict discipline 
of the camp ; and he was careful to provide for the 
security of the citizens by prohibiting, under severe 
penalties, any soldier from leaving his quarters without 
express permission. Indeed, the severity of his disci- 
pline provoked the remonstrance of more than one of 
his officers, as a superfluous caution ; and the Tlascalan 
chiefs took some exception at it, as inferring an un- 
reasonable distrust of them. But, when Cortes ex- 
plained it, as in obedience to an established military 
system, they testified their admiration, and the ambi- 
tious young general of the republic proposed to intro- 
duce it, if possible, into his own ranks. 9 

The Spanish commander, having assured himself 
of the loyalty of his new allies, next proposed to ac- 
complish one of the great objects of his mission, their 
conversion to Christianity. By the advice of Father 
Olmedo, always opposed to precipitate measures, he 
had deferred this till a suitable opportunity presented 
itself for opening the subject. Such a one occurred 
when the chiefs of the state proposed to strengthen the 

9 Sahagun, Hist, de Nueva-Espana, MS., lib. 12, cap. 11. — Camargo, 
Hist, de Tlascala, MS. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 54, 55. — Herrera, Hist 
general, dec. 2, lib. 6, cap. 13. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, 
cap. 75. 


alliance with the Spaniards by the intermarriage of 
their daughters with Cortes and his officers. He told 
them this could not be while they continued in the 
darkness of infidelity. Then, with the aid of the good 
friar, he expounded as well as he could the doctrines 
of the Faith, and, exhibiting the image of the Virgin 
with the infant Redeemer, told them that there was the 
God in whose worship alone they would find salvation, 
while that of their own false idols would sink them in 
eternal perdition. 

It is unnecessary to burden the reader with a reca- 
pitulation of his homily, which contained, probably, 
dogmas quite as incomprehensible to the untutored 
Indian as any to be found in his own rude mythology. 
But, though it failed to convince his audience, they 
listened with a deferential awe. When he had finished, 
they replied they had no doubt that the God of the 
Christians must be a good and a great God, and as such 
they were willing to give him a place among the 
divinities of Tlascala. The polytheistic system of the 
Indians, like that of the ancient Greeks, was of that 
accommodating kind which could admit within its 
elastic folds the deities of any other religion, without 
violence to itself. 10 But every nation, they continued, 
must have its own appropriate and tutelary deities. 
Nor could they, in their old age, abjure the service of 

10 Camargo notices this elastic property in the religions of Anahuac : 
" Este modo de hablar y decir que les querra dar otro Dios, es saber 
que cuando estas gentes tenian noticia de algun Dios de buenas pro- 
piedades y costumbres, que le rescibiesen admitiendole por tal, porque 
otras gentes advenedizas trujeron muchos idolos que tubieron por 
Dioses, y &. este fin y proposito decian, que Cortes les traia otro Dios." 
Hist, de Tlascala, MS. 



those who had watched over them from youth. It 
would bring down the vengeance of their gods, and of 
their own nation, who were as warmly attached to their 
religion as their liberties, and would defend both with 
the last drop of their blood ! 

It was clearly inexpedient to press the matter further 
at present. But the zeal of Cortes, as usual, waxing 
warm by opposition, had now mounted too high for 
him to calculate obstacles ; nor would he have shrunk, 
probably, from the crown of martyrdom in so good a 
cause. But, fortunately, at least for the success of his 
temporal cause, this crown was not reserved for him. 

The good monk, his ghostly adviser, seeing the 
course things were likely to take, with better judgment 
interposed to prevent it. He had no desire, he said, to 
see the same scenes acted over again as at Cempoalla. 
He had no relish for forced conversions. They could 
hardly be lasting. The growth of an hour might well 
die with the hour. Of what use was it to overturn the 
altar, if the idol remained enthroned in the heart ? or 
to destroy the idol itself, if it were only to make room 
for another ? Better to wait patiently the effect of time 
and teaching to soften the heart and open the under- 
standing, without which there could be no assurance 
of a sound and permanent conviction. These rational 
views were enforced by the remonstrances of Alvarado, 
Velasquez de Leon, and those in whom Cortes placed 
most confidence ; till, driven from his original purpose, 
the military polemic consented to relinquish the attempt 
at conversion for the present, and to refrain from a 
repetition of scenes which, considering the different 
mettle of the population, might have been attended 
Vol. I. 40 



with very different results from those at Cozumel and 

In the course of our narrative we have had occasion 
to witness more than once the good effects of the in- 
terposition of Father Olmedo. Indeed, it is scarcely 
too much to say that his discretion in spiritual matters 
contributed as essentially to the success of the expe- 
dition as did the sagacity and courage of Cortes in 
temporal. He was a true disciple in the school of Las 
Casas. His heart was unscathed by that fiery fanati- 
cism which sears and hardens whatever it touches. It 
melted with the warm glow of Christian charity. He 
had come out to the New World as a missionary among 
the heathen, and he shrunk from no sacrifice but that 
of the welfare of the poor benighted flock to whom he 
had consecrated his days. If he followed the banners 
of the warrior, it was to mitigate the ferocity of war, 
and to turn the triumphs of the Cross to a good account 
for the natives themselves, by the spiritual labors of 
conversion. He afforded the uncommon example — - 
not to have been looked for, certainly, in a Spanish 
monk of the sixteenth century — of enthusiasm con- 
trolled by reason, a quickening zeal tempered by the 
mild spirit of toleration. 

11 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 84. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 
56. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 76, 77. — This is not the 
account of Camargo. According to him, Cortes gained his point : 
the nobles led the way by embracing Christianity, and the idols were 
broken. (Hist, de Tlascala, MS.) But Camargo was himself a 
Christianized Indian, who lived in the next generation after the Con- 
quest, and may very likely have felt as much desire to relieve his 
nation from the reproach of infidelity as a modern Spaniard would to 
scour out the stain — mala raza y mancha — of Jewish or Moorish 
lineage from his escutcheon. 



But, though Cortes abandoned the ground of con- 
version for the present, he compelled the Tlascalans to 
break the fetters of the unfortunate victims reserved for 
sacrifice ; an act of humanity unhappily only transient 
in its effects, since the prisons were filled with fresh 
victims on his departure. 

He also obtained permission for the Spaniards to 
perform the services of their own religion unmolested. 
A large cross was erected in one of the great courts or 
squares. Mass was celebrated every day in the pres- 
ence of the army and of crowds of natives, who, if they 
did not comprehend its full import, were so far edified 
that they learned to reverence the religion of their 
conquerors. The direct interposition of Heaven, how- 
ever, wrought more for their conversion than the best 
homily of priest or soldier. Scarcely had the Span- 
iards left the city — the tale is told on very respectable 
authority — when a thin, transparent cloud descended 
and settled like a column on the cross, and, wrapping 
it round in its luminous folds, continued to emit a 
soft, celestial radiance through the night, thus pro- 
claiming the sacred character of the symbol, on which 
was shed the halo of divinity ! " 

The principle of toleration in religious matters being 
established, the Spanish general consented to receive 
the daughters of the caciques. Five or six of the most 
beautiful of the Indian maidens were assigned to as 
many of his principal officers, after they had been 
cleansed from the stains of infidelity by the waters of 
baptism. They received, as usual, on this occasion, 

13 The miracle is reported by Herrera (Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 6, 
cap. 15), and believed hy Solis. Conquista de Mejico, Lib. 3, cap. 5. 



good Castilian names, in exchange for the barbarous 
nomenclature of their own vernacular. 13 Among them, 
Xicotencatl's daughter, Dona Luisa, as she was called 
after her baptism, was a princess of the highest estima- 
tion and authority in Tlascala. She was given by her 
father to Alvarado, and their posterity intermarried 
with the noblest families of Castile. The frank and 
joyous manners of this cavalier made him a great 
favorite with the Tlascalans ; and his bright, open 
countenance, fair complexion, and golden locks gave 
him the name of Tonatiuh, the "Sun." The Indians 
often pleased their fancies by fastening a sobriquet, or 
some characteristic epithet, on the Spaniards. As 
Cortes was always attended, on public occasions, by 
Dona Marina, or Malinche, as she was called by the 
natives, they distinguished him by the same name. By 
these epithets, originally bestowed in Tlascala, the two 
Spanish captains were popularly designated among the 
Indian nations. 14 

While these events were passing, another embassy 
arrived from the court of Mexico. It was charged, as 
usual, with a costly donative of embossed gold plate, 

'3 To avoid the perplexity of selection, it was common for the mis- 
sionary to give the same names to all the Indians baptized on the 
same day. Thus, one day was set apart for the Johns, another for the 
Peters, and so on ; an ingenious arrangement, much more for the 
convenience of the clergy than of the converts. See Camargo, Hist, 
de Tlascala, MS. 

x * Ibid., MS. — Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. 74, 77. — 
According to Camargo, the Tlascalans gave the Spanish commander 
three hundred damsels to wait on Marina ; and the kind treatment 
and instruction they received led some of the chiefs to surrender their 
own daughters, "con proposito de que si acaso algunas se emprenasen 
quedase entre ellos generacion de hombres tan valientes y temidos." 



and rich embroidered stuffs of cotton and feather-work. 
The terms of the message might well argue a vacillating 
and timid temper in the monarch, did they not mask a 
deeper policy. He now invited the Spaniards to his 
capital, with the assurance of a cordial welcome. He 
besought them to enter into no alliance with the base 
and barbarous Tlascalans ; and he invited them to take 
the route of the friendly city of Cholula, where arrange- 
ments, according to his orders, were made for their 
reception. 15 

The Tlascalans viewed with deep regret the general's 
proposed visit to Mexico. Their reports fully con- 
firmed all he had before heard of the power and am- 
bition of Montezuma. His armies, they said, were 
spread over every part of the continent. His capital 
was a place of great strength, and as, from its insular 
position, all communication could be easily cut off 
with the adjacent country, the Spaniards, once en- 
trapped there, would be at his mercy. His policy, 
they represented, was as insidious as his ambition was 
boundless. "Trust not his fair words," they said, 
"his courtesies, and his gifts. His professions are 
hollow, and his friendships are false." When Cortes 

J S Bernal Diaz, Hist, de la Conquista, cap. So. — Rel. Seg. de Cortes, 
ap. Lorenzana, p. 60. — Martyr, De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 2.— 
Cortes notices only one Aztec mission, while Diaz speaks of three. 
The former, from brevity, falls so much short of the whole truth, and the 
latter, from forgetfulness perhaps, goes so much beyond it, that it is not 
always easy to decide between them. Diaz did not compile his narra- 
tive till some fifty years after the Conquest ; a lapse of time which 
may excuse many errors, but must considerably impair our confidence 
in the minute accuracy of his details. A more intimate acquaintance 
with his chronicle does not strengthen this confidence. 



remarked that he hoped to bring about a better under- 
standing between the emperor and them, they replied 
it would be impossible ; however smooth his words, he 
would hate them at heart. 

They warmly protested, also, against the general's 
taking the route of Cholula. The inhabitants, not 
brave in the open field, were more dangerous from their 
perfidy and craft. They were Montezuma's tools, and 
would do his bidding. The Tlascalans seemed to 
combine with this distrust a superstitious dread of 
the ancient city, the headquarters of the religion of 
Anahuac. It was here that the god Quetzalcoatl held 
the pristine seat of his empire. His temple was cele- 
brated throughout -the land, and the priests were con- 
fidently believed to have the power, as they themselves 
boasted, of opening an inundation from the founda- 
tions of his shrine, which should bury their enemies 
in the deluge. The Tlascalans further reminded 
Cortes that, while so many other and distant places 
had sent to him at Tlascala to testify their good will 
and offer their allegiance to his sovereigns, Cholula, 
only six leagues distant, had done neither. The last 
suggestion struck the general more forcibly than any 
of the preceding. He instantly despatched a summons 
to the city, requiring a formal tender of its submission. 

Among the embassies from different quarters which 
had waited on the Spanish commander, while at Tlas- 
cala, was one from Ixtlilxochitl, sen of the great Neza- 
hualpilli, and an unsuccessful competitor with his elder 
brother — as noticed in a former part of our narrative — 
for the crown of Tezcuco. 16 Though defeated in his 

16 Ante, p. 306. 



pretensions, he had obtained a part of the kingdom, 
over which he ruled with a deadly feeling of animosity 
towards his rival, and to Montezuma, who had sus- 
tained him. He now offered his services to Cortes, 
asking his aid, in return, to place him on the throne 
of his ancestors. The politic general returned such an 
answer to the aspiring young prince as might encourage 
his expectations and attach him to his interests. It 
was his aim to strengthen his cause by attracting to 
himself every particle of disaffection that was floating 
through the land. 

It was not long before deputies arrived from Cho- 
lula, profuse in their expressions of good will, and 
inviting the presence of the Spaniards in their capital. 
The messengers were of low degree, far beneath the 
usual rank of ambassadors. This was pointed out by 
the Tlascalans ; and Cortes regarded it as a fresh in- 
dignity. He sent in consequence a new summons, 
declaring if they did not instantly send him a deputa- 
tion of their principal men he would deal with them as 
rebels to his own sovereign, the rightful lord of these 
realms ! I7 The menace had the desired effect. The 
Cholulans were not inclined to contest, at least for the 
present, his magnificent pretensions. Another embassy 

*7 " Si no viniessen, iria sobre ellos, y los destruiria, y procederia 
contra ellos como contra personas rebeldes ; diciendo'.es, como todas 
estas Partes, y otras muy mayores Tierras, y Senorios eran de Vuestra 
Alteza." (Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, p. 63.) " Rebellion" 
was a very convenient term, fastened in like manner by the country- 
men of Cortes on the Moors for defending the possessions which they 
had held for eight centuries in the Peninsula. It justified very rigor- 
ous reprisals. (See the History of Ferdinand and Isabella, Part I. 
chap. 13, et alibi.) 


appeared in the camp, consisting of some of the highest 
nobles ; who repeated the invitation for the Spaniards 
to visit their city, and excused their own tardy appear- 
ance by apprehensions for their personal safety in 
the capital of their enemies. The explanation was 
plausible, and was admitted by Cortes. 

The Tlascalans were now more than ever opposed to 
his projected visit. A strong Aztec force, they had 
ascertained, lay in the neighborhood of Cholula, and 
the people were actively placing their city in a posture 
of defence. They suspected some insidious scheme 
concerted by Montezuma to destroy the Spaniards. 

These suggestions disturbed the mind of Cortes, but 
did not turn him from his purpose. He felt a natural 
curiosity to see the venerable city so celebrated in the 
history of the Indian nations. He had, besides, gone 
too far to recede, — too far, at least, to do so without a 
show of apprehension implying a distrust in his own 
resources which could not fail to have a bad effect on 
his enemies, his allies, and his own men. After a 
brief consultation with his officers, he decided on the 
route to Cholula. 18 

It was now three weeks since the Spaniards had taken 
up their residence within the hospitable walls of Tlas- 
cala, and nearly six since they entered her territory. 
They had been met on the threshold as enemies, 
with the most determined hostility. They were now 

18 Rel. Seg. de Cortes, ap. Lorenzana, pp. 62, 63. — Oviedo, Hist, 
de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 4. — Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 
84. — Gomara, Cronica, cap. 58. — Martyr, De Orbe Novo, dec. 5, cap. 
2. — Herrera, Hist, general, dec. 2, lib. 6, cap. 18. — Sahagun, Hist, de 
Nueva-Espana, MS., lib. 12, cap. 11. 



to part with the same people as friends and allies; 
fast friends, who were to stand by them, side by side, 
through the whole of their arduous struggle. The 
result of their visit, therefore, was of the last impor- 
tance ; since on the co-operation of these brave and 
warlike republicans greatly depended the ultimate 
success of the expedition.